Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) continues its efforts to improve drunk driving laws throughout the nation by encouraging states to increase penalties for blood/breath alcohol concentration (BAC) test refusal. The non-profit organization particularly advocates laws that provide BAC test refusal consequences that are more strict than those for individuals who take and fail a breath test. While every state has consequences for BAC test refusal, they are often less severe than those for a DUI conviction.
When you obtain your driver’s license, you give “implied consent” to a BAC test whenever law enforcement has probable cause to administer it. If you refuse, as implied consent laws allow you to do, you will face an immediate but minor administrative license suspension. You might also avoid serious DUI consequences due to lack of test results, the most important piece of evidence needed for a conviction, according to three-fourths of the prosecutors interviewed in a 2002 study on DWI prosecutions. With consequences inadequate for preventing high refusal rates, implied consent laws have created a BAC test refusal problem that makes prosecution more difficult and allows drunk driving offenders to avoid criminal conviction.
Maine and Nebraska are the only two states with greater penalties for test refusal than for BAC test compliance and failure. In Maine, BAC test refusal will result in an immediate license suspension for up to six years. The judge will also consider refusal as an aggravating factor and add another license suspension and mandatory jail time to an offender’s sentence – meaning test refusal can leave offenders with harsher consequences than if they had taken the test.
In Nebraska, BAC test refusal and DWI are separate offenses with the same consequences. In a study on BAC test refusal, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 88 percent of 601 drunk drivers arrested for BAC test refusal from 2003 to 2005 were convicted for DWI and another 10 percent were convicted for refusal. NHTSA also found that refusers had longer jail times and higher fines than offenders who took a BAC test. As a result, Nebraska had a BAC test refusal rate of 6 percent in 2005, the fifth lowest of the 37 states surveyed.
Other states are combating high refusal rates with No Refusal programs that allow police officers and prosecutors to quickly obtain a warrant from an on-call judge for blood samples of drunk driving suspects. According to The Century Council, many counties in Texas that have implemented the program have reported reduced refusal rates. The No Refusal program has decreased Montgomery County’s efusal rate from 45 to 25 percent and the rate of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities by 70 percent.