Drunken drivers could face tougher fines for refusing breath tests

Suspected drunken drivers could face tougher fines for refusing a Breathalyzer test.

A federal report found that Florida's refusal rate is among the highest in the nation, and some are questioning whether changes would make the roads safer.

Ryan Mauldin said he lost a friend a few years ago who was driving intoxicated behind the wheel.

"I guess he was a 'live on the edge' kind of person. I'm not really that kind of person anymore, but I miss him," said Mauldin.

Drivers who refuse to take a Breathalyzer test can have their licenses suspended for a year. But lawmakers are considering tougher penalties, including fines, probation, point deduction on a license and ignition interlocks, which stop drunken drivers from starting a vehicle.

The goal is to cut down on refusals.

But Mauldin said he believes that only jail time will make drivers think twice.

"Six months of sitting in a cell, you're not going to get that six months of your life back," he said.

A DUI attorney told Channel 9 that prosecutors don't need the Breathalyzer to gain a conviction, but it can help.

Drivers have a variety of reasons for refusing the test when they get out of the car.

"Some people don't take it because it's, 'Oh, I've had too much to drink,'" said defense attorney Matthew Olszewski.

Olszewski said some drivers believe that less evidence is best, and he pointed out that a field sobriety test is open to interpretation. A breath test is not.

"You're already under arrest and they're making it a crime for not further cooperating with law enforcement," said Olszewski.

The Orlando Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving supports the bill. Group representatives said in an email that expanding the ignition interlock system protects the public and that more needs to be done to hold drunken drivers accountable.