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Category: News

adressing-pima-county-drunk-driving-problemLike many areas of the country, Pima County, in south central Arizona, is struggling with a drunk driving problem. But, like the state as a whole, it is determined and resourceful in its anti-DUI efforts. These efforts include strengthening – and decentralizing – DUI patrols.

Up to now the Pima Sheriff’s Department ran its DUI units from the main headquarters in Tucson. The new, decentralized approach allows the patrols to target specific problem areas.

The advantage is agility: a sergeant and a team of deputies keep tabs on the crime trends in a particular district, and respond quickly to those trends. If there is a rise in drunk driving rates in a particular district, patrols are dispatched accordingly.

Traffic enforcement units will be freer to focus on speeding and school zone safety, and will be a noticeable deterrent to impaired drivers.

The patrols will be assigned to Foothills District in the north, San Xavier in the South, and Rincon district in the East.

The most effective way of combating the drunk driving problem is to persuade people that it’s a bad idea. Second to that, it makes sense to persuade drivers that they can’t get away with it. Pima County has just upped its game on this second, very vital method.

4 previous DUIs merits 48 year sentenceWhat is the purpose of punishing a drunk driver? Often it’s rehabilitation – if an offender can see the recklessness of the decision to drink and drive, he or she might change and start to drive responsibly.

For that reason, DUI sentences usually include an educational element – a DUI class, evaluation, or counseling. They also include a preventive element –an ignition interlock, which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. The latter is used because it’s well known that many drunk drivers reoffend, and an interlock device is a wise measure.

Occasionally, a drunk driving offender comes along who seems to merit measures that go beyond rehabilitation. Such was the case with Scott Woodington of Tucson, who was found guilty of aggravated DUI for causing the death of motorcyclist Amy Hill while drunk.

Woodington received a prison sentence of 48 years.

There were plenty of chances for rehab in the past. Woodington already had 4 previous DUIs on his record when he struck Hill. According to Arizona law, he would have paid fines, spent time in jail, and even had a period with an ignition interlock. Apparently nothing “took,” and in 2015 this DUI recidivist caused the death of an innocent person.

The Purposes of Punishment

In criminal law, the purposes of punishment are given as deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution, and restitution.

Of these, two do not apply in this case:

  • Rehabilitation – while the offender may seek help and even deal successfully with his alcohol problem, that was not the purpose of such a long sentence.
  • Restitution – in many cases a defendant pays the victim for harm caused, but there is no real restitution possible for loss of life.

The others do apply.

  • Deterrence – it’s possible that someone with a tendency to drive drunk will learn of this sentence and get help.
  • Retribution – the state has assured the family and friends of thevictim that justice has been done, and they do not have to seek personal vengeance to balance the scales.

And finally:

  • Incapacitation – this was probably the most compelling reason for a sentence just short of a half-century. The man in question will not be able to drive drunk again.

Was this the best way to do things? Probably. Sentences of this magnitude are rare, even for DUI homicide. Had the defendant not had 4 previous DUIs, and thus shown a complete unwillingness to change his ways in years past, the sentence might have been lighter. But in this case, incapacitation ruled the day.

arizona-toughest-dui-lawsThe stakes are high in the competition to end drunk driving. Lives hang in the balance, as a matter of fact. For this reason, we need to single out states that do a good job keeping drunk drivers off the road.

That’s what the website WalletHub does each year. Last week it released its annual ranking of Strictest and Most Lenient states on DUI.

Arizona took top honors, with a score of 84 percent (by contrast South Dakota, the biggest loser, scored about 20 percent). Arizona made top spot last year as well. This year the margin was comfortable: Georgia, the runner-up, scored just 70 percent.

How DUI Prevention Measures are  Scored

WalletHub’s scoring is very sensibly based on two main factors: criminal penalties and prevention. With a 10-day minimum jail sentence for the first offense,  Arizona is by far the toughest on first DUI offenders. The state doesn’t impose the longest suspensions or the longest jail terms for second offenses, but 10 days in jail for a first offense really gets a person’s attention.

Other factors taken into account are the “lookback period” – the length of time before an old DUI is no longer counted for figuring multiple offenses. Arizona’s is 7 years, which was once normal, but now on the low side. 10 and 15-year lookbacks are now common, and the only direction lawmakers are going with this is the longer one.

The report also considered how many offenses it takes before drunk driving becomes a felony, and is eligible for much more severe fines and imprisonment. The third offense is most common for Felony DUI, though four states now make a second DUI a felony.

Other measures were also ranked, including

  • How high the fines imposed for DUI are
  • Extra penalties for high-BAC (blood alcohol concentration) DUI
  • Mandatory ignition interlock (most points for interlocks on first offense)
  • Immediate (administrative) license suspension upon arrest
  • Length of ignition interlock term
  • Vehicle impound

Arizona might not have scored the highest on all of these factors, but they did score high on most of them, proving that their anti-DUI efforts are strong and praiseworthy.  Hats off to Arizona for keeping up the fight, and for WalletHub for keeping score in this vital effort to save lives on the road.

kombucha alcohol duiKombucha has had two bursts of fame in recent days.  First, for becoming a popular social drink (and thus big business) in the U.S. after about 1900 years as an obscure Japanese health tonic. Second, for the revelation that drinking it can cause one to register a fail on a breathalyzer, alcohol monitor or ignition interlock.

The second flurry of publicity stems from the DUI arrest of Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Michael Floyd, whose blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was recorded at .044 by his alcohol monitoring device. Floyd claimed that he was drinking kombucha and did not realize that it contained alcohol.

Kombucha is a fermented tea drink; the fermentation process produces alcohol. Some brands have very little of it, but others have about half the kick of beer, so much that stores are cautious about selling the stuff to minors.

Not everyone buys Floyd’s explanation, and in truth it does sound as if Floyd was really chugging down the kombucha in order to reach that high a BAC. But most of us do not have the NFL and the sports press breathing down our necks – we just want to know if having a bottle of kombucha in the cup holder can land us in jail.

Beware the breath

The truth is, even if kombucha alcohol can’t land you in jail, it could easily get you as far as the police station. If it’s fermenting, just drinking it could turn your mouth into a mini-brewery. So, for that matter, could fruit juice or even bread, which contains yeast. You could easily take a swig of kombucha and send a breathalyzer off the charts. Once a blood test was done you’d be exonerated, but no one would want to let it get that far.

This video demonstrates how kombucha alcohol in the mouth can cause a deceptively high BAC rating. Moreover, if you brew your kombucha at home, it will be unpasteurized, so the fermentation can continue and raise the alcohol content.

It goes without saying that if you have an ignition interlock installed in your vehicle, you should avoid kombucha when driving, and rinse out your mouth well if you’ve been drinking it that day. Ignition interlocks are designed to react to alcohol, so they’ll register the contents of your mouth as well as your system – it all exits through the breath.

Whether kombucha benefits the health is a question for medical experts. It’s proven beyond doubt, though, that drinking it can be bad for your breathalyzer results. So be warned.

darkness from NC drunk driver

Darkness courtesy of NC drunk driver

We often look at the damage drunk drivers do in terms of themselves – they get killed and injured – and others. And impaired driving is responsible for some 10,000 deaths each year, and 290,000 injuries – that’s an injury every two minutes.

But the decision to drink and drive can cost us in other ways. Taxes are higher because law enforcement, the courts, and prisons come into play when people drive drunk. And there is the cost of property – not just cars, but road signs, guard rails, houses, and other structures that stand in the way of vehicles piloted by drunk drivers.

Light poles are a common target. In Winston-Salem recently some 2,300 people were de-electrified thanks to the decision of a motorist to get behind the wheel after drinking. And this type of crash is not as rare as you might think. A year ago in Clayton, a similar crash put a thousand homes in the dark.

There are costs to power outages beyond missing a TV show. Food gets spoiled. Some people lose money because they are unable to work, or their business premises are unable to function.

But people who aren’t swayed by the thought of injury and death – their own or someone else’s – aren’t going to worry about electric power for a neighborhood. That is why North Carolina will need to keep the pressure on drunk drivers through laws. One way it could reduce the chances of mishaps like this would be to enact a law requiring ignition interlocks for all DWI offenders with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more. Currently the devices, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, are only mandated for first offenses if the BAC is .15 or higher.

Repeat DWI offenders don’t think about the consequences of their actions, so we need to, through laws and technology that’s been proven to work. We can’t catch every NC drunk driver before he or she breaks the law, but we’re far from powerless.

Once again, the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety has released numbers of Arizona DUI arrests for the July 4th weekend.

The totals are pretty breathtaking. In the period between Thursday, June 29th and Independence Day, police conducted some 16,000 traffic stops. The stops resulted in 539 Arizona DUI arrests.

Arrest numbers can mean different things, depending on your view. It appears that Arizona police found a drunk driver for every 21 traffic stops they made. That seems pretty steep, but presumably those 21 drivers were not a random sampling – they were pulled over because of some other behavior. So we don’t know exactly what proportion of Arizona’s 5 million drivers were impaired and behind the wheel during those 5 days.

What we do know is this:

  • 539 people were unaware or unconcerned that drunk driving is a criminal offense in Arizona. Even a first offense can get them 10 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. There are other costs too: jail costs, and a mandatory ignition interlock on their vehicle for one year.
  • 148 people were arrested for extreme DUI, meaning a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 1.5 or more. These people were apparently unaware or unconcerned that even a first extreme DUI merits 30 days in jail almost $2,800 in fines, mandatory screening and counseling, and an ignition interlock. If any of those were repeat extreme DUIs, they will be in for even stiffer penalties.
  • 539 Arizonans did not seem to care that alcohol, which depresses the central nervous system, compromised their judgment, slowed their reaction time, impaired their vision and hearing, and made it much more likely that they would get in a collision. In fact, a UC San Diego study found that even a small amount of alcohol in a driver’s system – a BAC of .01 – made it 46 percent more likely that that driver would be blamed for a collision.

And those 539 Arizonans did not seem to care that more than 250 people in the state, and some 10,000 people in the country, die each year as a result of someone’s decision to drink and drive. Fortunately, a lot of Arizonans do, and they’ll continue to support efforts like those of Governor’s Office of Highway Safety to take drunk drivers off the road.

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