Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, who was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of drunk driving and for refusing to take a Breathalyzer test, helped sharpen the penalties he could face.
“Last evening the vehicle I was driving in Barrington was pulled over by the Barrington Police,” Ruggerio, D-North Providence, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “I declined a Breathalyzer test.”
On March 1, 2006, Ruggerio was one of 36 senators who voted for a bill that increased the fines and lengths of license suspensions for those who refuse to take a breath test. Governor Carcieri signed the bill, which kept the refusal as a civil offense rather than a criminal one, into law later that year.
“The Senate has long believed that closing the refusal loophole is the most important step we can take to reduce drunken driving in our state,” then-Senate President Joseph Montalbano said. “This is common-sense legislation that exists in many other states, and I’m very proud to see it finally become law in Rhode Island.”
At the time, national rankings gave Rhode Island poor marks for stopping drunk driving, with 85% of suspected drunk drivers refusing to take a breath test, compared with 25% nationally, and no state recording more traffic fatalities linked to alcohol consumption, according to the General Assembly.
Rhode Island has two of the four “optimal laws” against impaired driving, putting it in the middle among all states, according to Advocacy for Highway & Auto Safety. Rhode Island does not require convicted drunk drivers to take breath tests before starting their cars or mandate tests for drivers involved in fatal clashes.
Ruggerio is scheduled to be arraigned in District Court next week. ”I accept full responsibility for my actions last evening,” the majority leader said in his statement on Wednesday.
Tim White contributed to this report.