Category: News

Arizona-dui-on-thanksgivingThe reason governments compile numbers on every conceivable facet of public life is to answer the perennial question, “How are we doing?”

On the question of holiday drunk driving, Arizona can answer, “Not too well, thank you.” A recent report by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety found that arrests for DUI on Thanksgiving weekend are up from last year – 377 as opposed to 333 in 2016.

But one number denoting an increase does not answer the question. In fact, an increase in DUI arrests could indicate either that more people are driving drunk on Thanksgiving, or more drunk drivers are being taken out of action on Thanksgiving by DUI patrols.

The GOHS seems to be taking the latter view. According to news reports the agency is attributing the rise in arrests to increased funding from holiday patrols.

And that is good news. What would be better news is if the DUI patrols increased but the arrests went down anyway, because people were getting the message that Monitech and others have been trying to hammer home: that drunk driving is a reckless crime that wastes lives. The agencies themselves have gotten the message: jurisdictions are trying new types of patrols and making intensive sweeps to bag drunk drivers.

But it’s clear that too many drivers are still operating under the assumption that drunk driving is a valid option.

Until the day that all motorists are sober, we’re happy that funding is helping to take drunk drivers off the roads. All we need to do is figure out more ways to keep them off Arizona roads in the first place.

chandler-chase-dui-warrantsPolice in Chandler, Arizona work hard to catch drunk drivers. That’s why, presumably, they find it galling that people arrested for DUI manage to escape the consequences.

How do they escape? Some don’t show up for their court appearance. Others don’t follow the orders given by the court: do community service, install an ignition interlock, or take the required DUI class.

Those who skip out on these requirements have DUI warrants out on them. If stopped, they’re liable for arrest.

To ensure that at least some of these scofflaws do the right thing, Chandler Police officers started a full-day sweep yesterday to find drivers who had active Chandler City Court DUI warrants out on them.

Compliance – A Vital Part of DUI Law

Drunk driving laws are even more linked to social engineering than most: their intent is not just to punish, but to alter a strain of behavior that can be very stubborn. Repeat drunk drivers are a common threat. One report stated that about a third of all drunk drivers arrested are repeat offenders.

Given the number of DUI arrests each year in this country – about 1.5 million – that’s a frightening number of people who need the full attention of the court: counseling, ignition interlocks (devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking), and monitoring.

That, in a nutshell, is the reason that Chandler sent out its officers to round up 1,900 people with outstanding DUI warrants. It’s an effort that will, if successful, make the roads of Chandler safer for everyone.

unmarked police cars

In an effort to catch more drunk drivers, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department DWI Task Force is going incognito. All of its officers now drive unmarked police cars.

The purpose of the change is obvious – to catch more impaired drivers. And so far, according to news reports, the method is working. Arrests are up.

Are Unmarked Police Cars Better?

There’s no doubt that unmarked police cars are great for catching offenders, particularly speeders, who tend to slow down when a police car is in view. But it’s not exactly clear how they would stop more impaired drivers, since generally people who have been drinking don’t scan the road before making their decision to drink and drive. Moreover, the things they do that reveal that they’re drunk are generally involuntary – weaving, hopping the curb, or otherwise driving inconsistently.

There is, in fact, a case for marked police cars: they advertise a police presence, which makes people think twice about driving drunk in the first place. A person who sees a police car on the way to a restaurant is more likely to avoid the risk of an arrest, and will refrain from drunk driving.

The final proof will be in the numbers. We await the statistics on DWI arrests and crashes in Charlotte-Mecklenburg when the unmarked cars have been operating for a year.

Until then, don’t drink and drive, in North Carolina, or anywhere else. That police car you don’t see might be on your tail.

drinking vanilla extractToo much vanilla extract can do more than give your custard an aftertaste. It can also give you a police record.

A man recently crashed his truck in Morganton, North Carolina. Police noticed an odor in the cab, but not the expected smell of beer or vodka: they detected vanilla. As it turned out, the driver had been drinking vanilla extract – a lot of it – and had ended up with a blood alcohol concentration of .26, more than three times the legal limit.

It was clearly no accident – to have that much vanilla extract in your system, you need to drink it deliberately. But how much did he have to drink?

Alcohol: Forbidden for Drivers, Mandatory for Vanilla

Federal law states that vanilla extract must be at least 35 percent alcohol, and have 100 grams of vanilla beans per litre.

vanilla cone35 percent alcohol is 70 proof – five times an average beer, well over twice what most wines have. You can buy rum or liqueurs with a similar alcohol content, and most people who like to drink do that instead of drink vanilla.

It is unlikely, however, that the vanilla extract in your bread pudding will get you drunk, or even register on a breathalyzer. Most recipes call for a teaspoon or two at most which, when spread out over a  whole dessert and baked to boot, will yield no more than a trace amount of alcohol.

Drinking vanilla extract, however, is another matter. In the Morganton case, the offender probably downed a whole bottle – and a good sized one, perhaps 12 ounces or more – in order to reach such a high alcohol level.

North Carolina imposes strict penalties on DWIs, including fines, license suspension, imprisonment, community service, and an ignition interlock requirement (because of the .15 BAC level).

Vanilla extract is great stuff. But it belongs in the kitchen, not on the road.

scottsdale-know-your-limit-programThousands of people visit bars in Scottsdale, Arizona every weekend. A staggering number of them will decide to drive home drunk.

There will be some hard-core drunk drivers who haven’t yet been caught. A few newbies, too. But a lot of those drunk drivers won’t realize they’re too impaired to drive. They have a very fuzzy idea of what constitutes impairment.

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is out to rectify the latter problem. Recently the organization offered the city a $150,000 grant to help support a program called “Know Your Limit.” The idea is to enlighten  drinkers who think that they are fit to drive.

Know Your Limit: Catch Them Before They DUI

The Scottsdale Know Your Limit Program will up stations in downtown areas on weekend evenings and offers free breathalyzer tests to bar patrons. Those who are tested and found to be over the legal limit are not penalized in any way. Rather, they’re informed of their alcohol level and also of the consequences should they try to drive.

Many participants are genuinely surprised that what they consider a relatively small amount of alcohol – two or three drinks’ worth – has impaired them to the degree that they are a menace on the roads.

The officers also give out rideshare vouchers to drive home the point – if you have been drinking, find a safe way home.

The safe, non-judgmental way that Know Your Limit operates makes it popular with people who regularly go out on the town.

Arizona has done a good job pursuing its goal of eliminating drunk driving. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) gave it a 5-star rating in its last report, thanks to its strong ignition interlock laws, visible law enforcement, and other measures. Teaching drinkers, particularly young, inexperienced drinkers that they are more impaired than they think they are is a good way to keep the state’s DUI numbers falling. We have high hopes for the Scottsdale Know Your Limit program.

arizona-drunk-driving-crashesTrying to make sense of road safety data can be a frustrating exercise. A new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration (NHTSA), for instance, notes that road deaths in Arizona rose last year by more than 7 percent. The total number of fatalities was 962, up from 897 the year before.

Cause for distress? Certainly. But it can’t be overlooked that fatal Arizona drunk driving crashes are down. Two years ago about 30 percent of road fatalities could be chalked up to alcohol. That jibes with national numbers. But last year alcohol could only be implicated in about 24 percent of deaths on the road.

That number is in opposition to national numbers, which rose for the second year in a row.

What is Arizona Doing Right?

Some of the success in driving down drunk driving numbers is probably due to the state’s no-tolerance attitude towards DUI.

A standard (alcohol level of .08 to .14 percent BAC) first DUI will result a fine of $1,250 and up to 10 days in jail. An ignition interlock is also mandatory for all DUIs.

An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Extreme DUIs (with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 percent or greater result in greater penalties: a $2,500 fine and a month in jail. Repeat offenses require even stiffer punishments.

The Turning Point: The All-Offender Ignition Interlock Law

Arizona’s ignition interlock law is not only one of the best in the country – it’s also one of the first, having been passed in 2007. The state got serious about making its roads safer, and its citizens are still reaping the benefits.

No one can be sure that this trend – if it is a trend – is the result of laws, or some other as-yet undiscovered factor. But in general roads don’t get safer by themselves. Hard work by legislators, courts, police and public safety advocates was what brought about the state’s decline in alcohol-related road deaths.

Let’s watch the numbers and see if Arizona continues to resist the disturbing national rise in drunk driving deaths.


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