PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), Rhode Island State Police (RISP) and the Rhode Island Attorney General Office (RIAG) recently announced the creation of a new task force dedicated to reducing the number of tragedies associated with impaired driving.
This new unit of the Rhode Island State Police, which began its work in mid-November, consists of significantly increased overnight road presence. Funded by RIDOT using approximately $830,000 of federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration funding, the unit was expressly created for the purpose of arresting impaired drivers. Each day there are between two and five extra State Police patrols operating statewide between the hours of 5 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Though RIDOT has traditionally provided funds to state and local police for specific enforcement periods, typically around holidays and busy travel periods, this marks the first time Rhode Island will have a year-round unit of troopers dedicated to enhancing public safety by enforcing impaired driving laws.
According to the RISP, in the first month of operation, the unit has completed 97 shifts, arrested 90 people – 49 of them for driving under the influence – and issued 684 citations. In addition, 56 crashes were investigated – with nearly 30 percent of them involving a suspected impaired driver.
“We are attacking impaired driving on many fronts,” RIDOT Director Peter Alviti, Jr. said. “Now we’re putting federal dollars to work to fund year-round patrols with the sole purpose of stopping and arresting drunk drivers before they have a chance to kill or seriously injure someone.”
“Our highest priority is to protect the public. Impaired drivers remain a threat to society and with the creation of this new unit of the State Police, we will continue the excellent work the unit has demonstrated in just its first month. My message to impaired drivers is this: We are looking for you and with the support of the Attorney General and his team, you will be prosecuted,” said Rhode Island State Police Colonel James. M Manni.
“We recognize that impaired driving is a significant threat in Rhode Island that requires a collaborative approach between the agencies on the front lines,” said Attorney General Peter F. Neronha. “Our Office’s Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor oversees the prosecution of all alcohol-related driving accidents in the state, working closely with the Rhode Island State Police and the Department of Transportation to protect public safety and ensure that justice is served.”
While ongoing efforts to discourage impaired driving and arrest offenders have made some strides in reducing alcohol impaired driving deaths – down from 41 percent in 2017 to 34 percent in 2018 – the numbers remain alarmingly high. Rhode Island still ranks above the national average (29 percent). This puts Rhode Island in the top third of states with the highest percentage of fatalities involving impaired drivers. In 2017 and 2018 combined, over 50 people were killed by impaired driving on Rhode Island roads.
RIDOT and RISP are using a data-driven approach for scheduling these patrols. By analyzing crash data, the unit will be able to target specific areas in Rhode Island where crash rates are high and at the time of the day when most impaired driving crashes typically occur.
All State Police members assigned to the unit have been trained and certified in impaired driving detection techniques to include standard field sobriety tests, breathalyzer operation, and drug recognition.