RI lawmakers seek to close underage DUI loophole

Rhode Island lawmakers are considering a number of proposals aimed at cracking down on drunk driving. The House Judiciary committee heard a range of bills Tuesday night.

Rhode Island State Police are backing a plan to increase penalties for adults who drive drunk with children in the car. The proposal would make such a crime a felony, punishable by up to 5 years behind bars.

The proposal comes after a number of recent cases in which local parents have been accused of driving drunk with their children in the car, including two this past weekend.

I don't know why people would put their children in the car, put them at risk. Because, if anything, that's a common denominator for parents is protecting their kids.

If it appears some people can't, we'll enhance the penalty," Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Steven O'Donnell told NBC10.

Another proposal would close a loophole in the blood alcohol limit laws. When lawmakers lowered the legal limit to .08 10 years ago, they apparently forgot to include 18 to 20 year olds. The legal limit for them is still the higher .10, even though they are not supposed to drink at all.

Rep. Donald Lally told NBC10 "When we cast the net, somehow the 18 to 21 year olds slipped through. So now we're putting them on the same footing at. 08."

Also, there are plans to force some DUI offenders to use a breathalyzer ignition lock system in their car. The lock will not let them start the car if they've been drinking. Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been calling for such a measure for years.

"We can't take people out of there, so much as we'd like to in many cases. We suspend their licenses. We take away their driving privileges, and they keep driving," said MADD Rhode Island Executive Director Gabrielle Abbate.

The American Civil Liberties Union, however, opposes mandatory use of the ignition locks. The ACLU's Hillary Davis told NBC10, "What we want to see is judicial discretion, a judge to have the opportunity to evaluate an individual who is before them."

The House Judiciary Committee is holding each of the bills for further study