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Published: Tuesday, 5/16/2006

Michigan legislator wants tougher laws for drunken driving

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Angerer Angerer
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MONROE - After being the victim of an accident last year involving a drunken driver, state Rep. Kathy Angerer (D., Dundee) has decided to push for stricter drunken-driving laws.

Yesterday, Ms. Angerer said she would introduce legislation that will:

●Allow law enforcement officers to immediately seize the driver's license of an individual who either refuses or fails a breath, blood, or urine test after being arrested for suspected driving under the influence.

●Stiffen penalties for drivers who refuse to take a breath test, making them more severe than penalties for those who fail breath tests.

●Create a state agency that deals with the underage drinking problem.

"I want people to know that if they drink excessively and then get behind the wheel, there are serious and even deadly consequences," Ms. Angerer said.

Area law enforcement officials said they welcome Ms. Angerer's effort.

"I'm all for any legislation that would curb and curtail drunk driving," said Sgt. Frank Atkinson, of the Monroe County sheriff's traffic division.

"The number of fatalities involving drunk driving is declining across the United States. Even though there's a decrease here in Michigan, it's still not at an acceptable level," Sergeant Atkinson said.

Ms. Angerer said stricter laws have made a difference in Michigan.

"Statistics show that since implementing tougher drunk-driving penalties over the past decade, alcohol-related fatalities have decreased over 21 percent. I want to continue that trend, and my bills will do that," Ms. Angerer said.

She said she was involved in an accident in Dundee on Oct. 29 in which a drunken driver struck three vehicles - one of them hers - sending several people to the hospital. She was not hurt. The driver charged with DUI recently was charged with a second DUI offense, according to Ms. Angerer.

"People who drive drunk put our entire community at risk. They deserve severe punishment," she said.

The last state action related to drunken driving occurred in 2003 when legislators lowered the drunken-driving standard from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent, becoming the 44th state to do so.

The legislature also added a pair of $1,000 fines to be imposed in consecutive years for all DUI-convicted drivers.

At present, first-time offenders can serve up to 93 days in jail, be fined $500, be asked to perform up to 360 hours of community service, be penalized up to six points on their driver's license, and have their license suspended for up to 180 days.

The state's strict repeat- offender laws have helped reduce alcohol-related traffic deaths, according to Ms. Angerer.

In 1982, there were 1,392 traffic fatalities in the state with 870, or 63 percent, of them alcohol-related. The percentage dropped to 41 percent by 1995. In 2004, the last year statistics have been released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 1,159 traffic fatalities in Michigan, 430, or 37 percent, of which were alcohol-related.

In 2004, Ohio had 1,286 traffic fatalities; 492, or 38 percent, of them were alcohol related.

At 50 percent, Rhode Island had the highest percentage of alcohol-related traffic deaths during 2004, while Utah had the lowest figure, at 24 percent, according to NHTSA data.

Contact George Tanber at:

gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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