David Catalano veered off a Rhode Island road last year and slmmed into a gas station attendant, killing him. He sped away, and shot a police officer who tried to arrest him. It was Catalano's sixth car crash and seventh assault charge, three of them on police officers; he had been charged with drunken driving three times. In other New England states, Catalano might have been ordered off the road for years because of drunken-driving infractions, says the Providence Journal. Not in Rhode Island, where lax laws have led the federal government to order the state to spend $22 million since 2001 on preventing drunken-driving crashes instead of road construction.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 40 percent of 2009 Rhode Island driving fatalities involved alcohol-impaired drivers. That's above the national average of 32 percent — and up from 36 percent in Rhode Island the year before, ranking Rhode Island among the worst states. In Rhode Island, a Journal analysis shows, a maze of laws lets someone like Catalano avoid charges as a repeat offender, which require harsher penalties with each additional conviction. The laws make it difficult to track repeat offenders, which experts say is crucial for lowering the number of people driving drunk — and the number of people they kill on the roads.