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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) opened a new headquarters Monday to help bring awareness and advocacy for those impacted by impaired driving.
Dozens of names and faces of those killed were on display during the ribbon-cutting, just a small sample of the impact of impaired driving in Rhode Island. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters were among them, serving as a reminder that impaired driving doesn’t discriminate.
The R.I. Department of Transportation (RIDOT) said so far this year, 36 people have been killed on Rhode Island roads, nearly three times as many by this time last year.
Wesley Pennington, the program director for MADD’s Rhode Island chapter, said about a third of traffic fatalities are due to impairment.
But according to data released last week by the R.I. Department of Health’s forensic lab, the 2023 statistics are alarming. So far this year, 58% of drivers in fatal crashes showed evidence of impairment.
“That should not be acceptable for Rhode Islanders, it should not be acceptable for law enforcement,” said Pennington, a former Rhode Island state trooper of 28 years. “We have Rhode Islanders that are losing their lives on our highways that just don’t need to happen … These fatal car crashes are 100% preventable.”
In 2022, 42% of all Rhode Island traffic fatalities involved drinking and driving, resulting in 14 deaths and 89 people seriously injured.
From 2017 to 2021, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in Rhode Island were also higher than the national average.
The new headquarters comes amid the “100 deadliest days” for drivers. According to AAA, 30% of deaths involving teen drivers happen between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“Impaired driving is an epidemic that is senseless and needs to end,” RIDOT Chief of Highway Safety Gabrielle Abbate said. “Rhode Island has one of the weakest laws in the country for impaired driving.”
“We’re at looking at it from a saving a life angle,” Abbate added. “When you look at it from that angle, it’s a no-brainer that we need to stiffen our laws here.”
Earlier this month, MADD joined advocates and victims’ families to fight for changes to DUI laws in Rhode Island, but the two bills would go unheard by the end of the legislative session.
“Statutes are great and certainly is going to provide certain paths to hold people accountable,” Gov. Dan McKee said when asked about the failed bills, shifting his focus to MADD’s mission. “The message here really is the impact that that behavior has on families.”
“This goes back to the issue of personal responsibility – educating people on that,” Abbate said.
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