Arizona road safety advocates have been sending the message pretty persistently for the last ten years: don’t drink and drive. Have drivers been getting the message? All you need to do is take a look at the enforcement statistics from Arizona’s Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) to find some – but perhaps not all – of the answers.
The data we looked at was for Arizona DUI Enforcement for the decade of 2005 through 2014.
With very little wavering, traffic stops have been increasing by the year, and the increase has been a large one – from around 49,000 stops in 2005 to 940,000 in 2014. More government funding and legislators’ determination to make the roads safer are generally behind this twentyfold increase.
This is hardly surprising, given the increase in traffic stops. In 2005, just 6500 drivers were found to be under the influence. Last year, that number was between three and four times that – some 23,400. The good news is that as a percentage of total traffic stops, the number of drunk drivers is lower by far. In 2005, 13 percent of traffic stops resulted in a DUI arrest. In 2014, that number was just 2 percent.
The average blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for DUIs has crept up slightly in those years – from .14 to .15. It’s hard to know if this rise is significant, especially since the overall number of drunk drivers detected has gone down as a percentage of traffic stops. That might mean that less committed drinkers are more likely to call a taxi. Or perhaps more people who have had just 2 or 3 drinks and are in the .08 range have enough judgment left to pick up on the ever-more-pervasive public messages not to drink and drive.
In Arizona aggravated DUI is a felony, punishable by prison and very severe fines. Aggravated DUI offenses include:
- offenses committed on a suspended or revoked license
- a third DUI in 5 years
- offenses committed with a person under 15 in the vehicle
- a DUI committed while an ignition interlock device is installed in the vehicle
In 2005, just 6 percent of DUI arrests were for aggravated offenses. In 2014, this number was 11 percent. This goes along with the next statistic:
Also, in 2005, 24 percent of drunk drivers were in the extreme range (above a .15 BAC). Last year it was 29 percent. If drunk driving is declining in general, why are the ones being caught more intoxicated, and why do those ranks include more repeat offenders? It’s likely that, once again, the anti-drunk-driving messages are working for social drinkers, leaving a larger percentage of problem drinkers in the pool of offenders. This disparity underscores the nature of repeat DUI offenders, one of the harder law enforcement nuts to crack.
Here’s some good news. Since 2009 GOHS has kept track of how many vehicles stopped had sober designated drivers in them. That number has risen markedly, from 1450 in 2009 to over 10,000 last year.
Overall, the news is good: drunk driving is more unfashionable than ever in Arizona, thanks to the persistence of law enforcement, courts, and road safety advocates and organizations. More comprehensive enforcement of ignition interlock laws would help bring down the number of repeat offenders still further. If that happens, and if Arizona keeps doing what it’s doing, we can look forward to even better numbers in the next ten years.