Governor Mitt Romney today celebrated the signing of a tough new law that will help curb tragic drunk driving accidents in the Bay State and urged motorists to drive safely over the long 4th of July holiday weekend.
The new .08 "per se" law, signed on Monday by Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey when Romney was out of town, will save lives and prevent Massachusetts from losing more than $55 million in federal highway dollars over the next four years.
According to Romney, Massachusetts State Police will have 150 extra patrols on the highways this weekend to crack down on aggressive and reckless driving.
"Today, Massachusetts has a tough, new drunk driving law on the books," Romney said. "Sadly, for many years, we were the only state without a per se statute. Now, we can proudly take our place with the rest of the nation."
Romney said the new law, which he filed in February, stipulates that if a motorist is detected having a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .08 percent or higher, that individual is in fact considered driving under the influence. Before the new measure, Massachusetts law left open the question as to whether or not an individual who has a BAC of .08 or higher is truly intoxicated. In a court of law, .08 percent BAC was evidence of intoxication, but not irrefutable proof.
The new law coincides with the Executive Office of Public Safety's new campaign to curb drunk driving, known as "You Drink & Drive. You Lose." As part of the program, nearly 300 local police departments and the State Police will conduct high-visibility traffic enforcement to target impaired drivers during the holiday weekend.
"Law enforcement is always on the lookout for impaired drivers, but police will be paying even closer attention over the Independence Day weekend as part of this campaign," Secretary of Public Safety Ed Flynn said. "It's our hope that this enforcement, together with this tough new drunk driving law, will make a difference where the rubber meets the road."
Romney said the new law also prevents the loss of millions of dollars in federal highway funds used to upgrade the state's aging infrastructure. Without this law in place by June 30th, the state would have lost $2 million. If it had not been in place by October 1st, Massachusetts would have lost an additional two percent of federal highway funds in Fiscal Year 2004. That percentage increases by another two percent each year to eight percent in Fiscal Year 2007 and every year thereafter. Using this formula, the loss to Massachusetts would have been $5.4 million in Fiscal Year 2004, $10.8 million in Fiscal Year 2005, $16.2 million in Fiscal Year 2006 and $21.6 million in each Fiscal Year thereafter.
"Massachusetts was facing the stark possibility of losing federal highway money for not passing a measure that almost everyone agrees should be state law," said Transportation Secretary Daniel Grabauskas. "This is really a win any way you look at it - both for public safety and for the road and bridge program."
The per se law also increases the automatic license suspension period for refusal to take a breathalyzer from four months to six months and reduces the suspension period if the test is taken and failed from three months to one month. It is believed that this measure will increase the incentive to take the test and increase personal accountability to not get behind the wheel while potentially intoxicated.
Drunk driving continues to pose a significant public safety threat to the citizens of the Bay State. This is confirmed by the most recent statistics on Massachusetts traffic crashes and alcohol-related fatalities, which indicate the following:
|Total Traffic Crash Deaths in 2001:
|Total Alcohol-Related Traffic Deaths in 2001:
|Total of 2001 Traffic Deaths Due to Alcohol:
Although the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Massachusetts has decreased from 407 in 1982 to 234 in 2001, the percentage of total traffic deaths in Massachusetts being attributable to alcohol at 49 percent is higher than the national average of 41 percent. Enhancement of our drunk driving laws will enable Massachusetts to achieve the far more important accomplishment of reducing the number of alcohol-related fatalities.