Today, at the Arlington County Detention Center in Virginia, I kicked off our annual "Drunk Driving. Over the Limit, Under Arrest" winter holiday enforcement effort.
Thousands of police departments across America will join us this December during National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. And, as the busy holiday travel season gets underway, we’re taking another step to get drunk drivers off the road with a national “No Refusal” initiative.
The "No Refusal" strategy is a tool many states are using this season to put a stop to drunk driving. "No Refusal" allows law enforcement officers to contact on-call judges and obtain warrants for blood samples from suspected drunk drivers who refuse a breathalyzer test.
I want to thank MADD National President Laura Dean-Mooney for joining me today. No other organization in the country has been as staunch an ally in our efforts to end drunk driving. And their support of "No Refusal" has helped provide our frontline law enforcement officers another critical tool for making our roads safer.
The idea of someone skirting the law and walking away from a drunk driving offense by refusing a breathalyzer test is an insult to the tens of thousands of people who have been killed by drunk drivers over the years.
But, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about one in every four DUI suspects refuses a breathalyzer test. And, because prosecuting suspected drunk drivers is much more difficult when the offender refuses a breath test, those drivers are more likely be dismissed only to drive drunk again.
In some states, the rate of refusal is even higher. For example, Florida, Massachusetts, and Louisiana show refusal rates of 38-41 percent. New Hampshire tops all states with an 81 percent refusal rate.
This is a persistent, ongoing safety problem.
But states like Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, and Utah that have adopted "No Refusal" programs demonstrate more guilty pleas and fewer costly trials.
Refusal rates in Texas have dropped from nearly 50 percent down to 10 percent. And, when a case does go to trial, conviction rates are higher. As Asst. D.A. Diepraam said, "We give 100 percent scientific evidence to our juries."
In Diepraam's Montgomery County, blood tests on those suspects who refuse a breathalyzer have shown all of them to be well above the statutory limit. The average blood alcohol concentration among these suspects was 0.19, more than twice the legal limit.
Today, we were also joined by Sheriff Craig Webre from Lafourche Parish, Louisiana. In 2008, Sheriff Webre said, 18 people lost their lives to drunk driving in Lafourche Parish. He and his team “made a commitment” to lowering that death rate and worked with “a laser-like focus” to bring the numbers down with the No Refusal strategy. It worked.
In 2009, the number of people killed by drunk drivers dropped to 11. So far this year, five people were killed in Lafourche Parish due to drunk driving. “The statistics cannot be refuted,” he said.
As NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said, "The 'No Refusal' strategy supports prosecutions and improves deterrence--both of these outcomes mean fewer drunk drivers on the road."