WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Transportation last week kicked off the annual "Drunk Driving. Over The Limit. Under Arrest" winter holiday crackdown involving thousands of law enforcement agencies across the nation. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also highlighted the new "No Refusal" strategy that a number of states are employing to put a stop to drunk driving.
Through the "No Refusal" strategy, law enforcement officers are able to quickly obtain warrants from "on call" judges in order to take blood samples from suspected drunk drivers who refuse a breathalyzer test.
"Drunk driving remains a leading cause of death and injury on our roadways," said LaHood. "I applaud the efforts of the law enforcement officials who have pioneered the 'No Refusal' approach to get drunk drivers off our roads. And I urge other states to adopt this approach to make sure that drunk drivers can't skirt the law and are held accountable."
According to DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in many states, a large proportion of people pulled over for DUIs refuse to take an alcohol breathalyzer test. The latest data show that the states with the highest refusal rates included New Hampshire at 81 percent, Massachusetts at 41 percent, Florida at 40 percent, Louisiana at 39 percent and Ohio at 38 percent. States that have adopted "No Refusal" programs report more guilty pleas, fewer trials and more convictions.
"MADD is proud to support NHTSA, as well as our heroes in law enforcement, in their focus on 'No Refusals,'" said MADD National President Laura Dean-Mooney. "Working together, we can make our roadways safer and eliminate drunk driving in the U.S."
LaHood was joined for the announcement by NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, MADD President Laura Dean-Mooney, as well as Warren Diepraam, an assistant district attorney in Texas who is a leading advocate of the "No Refusal" strategy. Lafourche Parrish Sheriff Craig Webre, who instituted a "No Refusal" policy in Thibodaux, La., was also on hand to share his experiences. The officials strongly endorsed the "No Refusal" initiative and applauded states already employing this strategy to get drunk drivers off of their roads, including Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Utah, Idaho and Arizona.
"When it comes to drunk driving, we cannot afford to have repeat offenders," said Strickland. "The 'No Refusal' strategy helps support prosecutions and improves deterrence, which means fewer drunk drivers on the road. I want to remind everyone this holiday season: if you're over the limit, you're under arrest. So please, for safety's sake, find a designated driver or take a taxi if you are under the influence."
It is against the law in all U.S. states and the District of Columbia to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of .08 or higher. Yet, NHTSA data show that last year, 10,839 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, including 753 in December alone. Agency trend data have consistently shown an increase in fatalities during the holiday season.
The holiday enforcement crackdown is supported by $7 million in national TV and radio advertising and runs from Dec. 15 through Jan. 3.