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Secretary Ray LaHood --Remarks as Prepared-- The “No Refusal” Initiative: Over the Limit, Under Arrest Arlington County Circuit Courthouse

Good morning.  Let me quickly recognize several special guests: David Strickland, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Sheriff Craig Webre of Lafourche Parish, Louisiana; Warren Diepraam, Assistant District Attorney of Montgomery County, Texas; Sheriff Beth Arthur of Arlington County, Virginia; and Doug Scott, Chief of the Arlington County Police Department.  Thank you for joining us.

Laura Dean-Mooney, President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, will also speak in a moment.  Nineteen years ago, Laura’s husband Mike was killed when a drunk driver hit his car head-on.  But Laura transformed unimaginable tragedy into a powerful commitment to save others’ lives.  Thank you, Laura, for your extraordinary courage, tremendous advocacy, and remarkable leadership.  You’re an inspiration.

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. 

According to NHTSA research, about one in four DWI suspects refuses a breathalyzer test in order to avoid prosecution.  It’s a persistent, ongoing problem.   And during more than two decades of study, we’ve seen very little deviation in the data.
 
Increasingly, states are responding with tough “no refusal” policies.  These actions allow law enforcement officers to phone a judge and obtain -- on the spot -- a warrant to conduct a blood test if a suspected drunk driver rejects a breathalyzer. 

In some cases, police officers are certified to draw blood themselves.  In other cases, they will bring suspects to a facility where a certified health professional performs the test and sends the results to the district attorney’s office.  Either way, these aren’t new laws or regulations.  They’re efforts to streamline existing procedures – while protecting due process – to ensure that drunk drivers can’t skirt the consequences of their actions.

So far, “no refusal” approaches have achieved enormous success in places like Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, and Montgomery County, Texas.  They lead to fewer trials, more guilty pleas, and more convictions. That’s why, starting today, the U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA will provide states with a new “No Refusal Toolkit,” which equips them to put similar policies into practice across the country.

Look: When it comes to keeping our roadways safe from drunk drivers, we’ve made some important progress.  There was a time -- not that long ago -- when drivers, young and old, didn’t think twice about having a few drinks too many and then getting behind the wheel.  Not anymore.  There was a time -- not that long ago -- when police would pull a drunk driver over, pat him on the back, and put him in a cab toward home. Not anymore.
 
Because of strong laws, consistent enforcement, and increasing public awareness, drunk driving-related fatalities have declined by more than 40 percent during the last three decades.  They’ve declined by 20 percent during the last three years. 

But we’re here today because our work isn’t done.  Not when impaired drivers constitute almost one-third of all roadway fatalities.  And not when 11,000 die in alcohol-related crashes every year – the equivalent of one drunk driving death every 48 minutes.  While we should be encouraged by our successes, we cannot be lulled into complacency.  This is not the time to rest on our laurels.

The “no refusal” program represents an important new weapon in the fight against drunk driving.    And we’re calling on communities in all 50 states to adopt it.

Monday, December 13, 2010