CRANSTON — The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association unveiled nine new patrol vehicles late last week that are specifically designed to assist in drunk and impaired-driving enforcement throughout the state.
The vehicles, on display at the Cranston Police Training Complex last Friday, March 12, were funded through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration via the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s Office on Highway Safety (OHS). They will be reserved specifically for use as dedicated impaired-driving enforcement vehicles, allowing departments to increase the amount of targeted enforcement they are able to conduct as well as more easily track and utilize impaired-driving statistics and initiatives.
Speakers at the unveiling, ranging from local police chiefs to highway safety stakeholders and the Attorney General, showed the broad, statewide support that exists in Rhode Island for combating impaired driving.
“I’m struck at how many times a young person is seriously injured or killed in one of these crashes,” Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha said. “It’s something that remains with the victim’s family for years to come. That’s what makes this program so important. By increasing the efforts to stop impaired drivers before they get into one of these tragic crashes, it will go a long way to reducing the devastation that is happening on our roadways.”
One of the Chiefs in attendance whose officers will be using the new cruisers was Chief Shawn Lacey of the Westerly Police Department. He talked about how it can be difficult for an officer to conduct targeted DUI enforcement during the course of an otherwise busy typical shift.
“These cruisers are a major tool that will allow officers to be the most effective and efficient that they can while enforcing impaired-driving laws,” Chief Lacey said. “These cruisers make a statement, not only for the communities where they will be used, but collectively statewide. They will allow officers to focus exclusively on DUI enforcement with state-of-the-art vehicles at their disposal.”
The cruisers, awarded to nine departments throughout the state, feature a variety of features that will allow for safer and more efficient traffic stops, including specialized LED lighting to increase visibility and darkened “ghost lettering” decals that indicate the vehicle is a DUI enforcement vehicle (the letters become more visible when illuminated by the lights of the cruiser). The cruiser given to Westerly Police, for example, features an on-dash camera systems to record all traffic stops, and will be the the first cruiser to have such a camera system for the department.
RIPCA President Chief Richard Ramsay of the West Greenwich Police Department spoke of the partnerships the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association has with state and federal agencies such as the NHTSA and RI-DOT, which made the purchasing of these cruisers possible. He also provided statistics that support the need for dedicated impaired-driving enforcement vehicles.
In 2019, 44% of all fatal crashes on Rhode Island roads were considered alcohol-impaired fatalities, meaning the driver’s blood alcohol content was equal to or above the legal limit of .08%. The national average during this time was 28%.
“This is an issue that affects all Rhode Islanders,” Chief Ramsay said. “Our officers know that they cannot let up, and in fact, we are going to do more. The addition of these nine new cruisers is just another step in our dedicated efforts to crack down on impaired driving.”
The cruisers were awarded to the following local departments throughout the state: Central Falls, North Kingstown, Portsmouth, Westerly, Woonsocket, Warwick, Burrillville, Cranston and West Warwick. The departments were selected based on their past positive performance of impaired-driving efforts in their cities and towns.
The unveiling of the vehicles coincides with the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday, which is a time when impaired driving tends to increase dramatically. According to the NHTSA, in 2018 alone 73 people died in drunk driving crashes on St. Patrick’s Day across the country, and 38% of drivers killed in St. Patrick’s Day crashes had a blood-alcohol level over .08%.
Police departments throughout Rhode Island will be increasing enforcement of impaired-driving laws during the holiday again this year, but they cannot do it alone.
“The officers here today could use your help,” said Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti, Jr. “Have a plan for getting yourself, your friends and family home. If you see someone getting behind the wheel who has been drinking, have a plan in place. Let’s make this St. Patrick’s Day the one we get through with everyone safe.”
The state’s Blood Alcohol Testing Mobile Unit, known as the BAT Mobile, was also on site for the event.