arizona-wrong-way-drivers

Few things are scarier on the road – for good reason – than seeing a driver come at you on your side of the road. Wrong-way drivers cause collisions that take a particularly horrific toll, and Arizona legislators are concerned that there are too many of them in the state. Which is why they’re proposing new laws to stop this lethal practice.

According to news reports the Governor, Doug Ducey, has recommended adding more troopers and a special patrol to focus on wrong-way drivers. A bill is also in the legislature which would make wrong-way driving an automatic felony.  The measure, House Bill 2243, would mandate a fine and traffic classes for anyone caught driving in the wrong direction.

Another legislator has proposed installing spikes on certain well-traveled roadways which shred the tires of wrong-way drivers – such spikes are used in rental car lots to keep people from stealing vehicles. But such spikes would be dangerous to ambulances and other assistance vehicles which sometimes need to drive against traffic to reach a collision scene.

What Causes Wrong Way Driving?

The problem with these measures is they don’t get at the cause of wrong-way driving, which is usually impairment. If you see a wrong-way driver, the chances are good that he or she is drunk. And since drunk drivers are not aware that they’re driving in the wrong direction, they’re not going to be deterred by fines and felony charges.

Preventing drunk driving, therefore, is a wiser cause of action. Enforcing strictly the state’s ignition interlock laws will keep many DUI offenders from driving drunk. Patrols should be on the lookout for drunk drivers before they turn into wrong-way drivers.

Older drivers are also over-represented among wrong-way drivers. Again, felony punishments will be less effective than better screening of older drivers in the first place.

It’s good that Arizona lawmakers are talking about ways to keep people safe on the road. But they should focus on the cause of the crime, because by the time it occurs, it’s often too late to prevent a crash.

arizona-loophole-cheats-justice

A man drives recklessly, killing a mother and injuring her two small children. And he spends no time in prison. It doesn’t seem fair. And in fact, it isn’t.

It happened in Chandler, Arizona – a man named William Epperlein failed to see a red light. He had a long history of DUI, speeding, and other traffic violations, and did not even have a valid license, so it would seem that the court would throw the book at him for this egregious misstep.

But the court declined to prosecute.

The reason was a technicality centering around the difference between a suspended license and a revoked one. Epperlein was to have his license revoked for his DUI, which would have made his more recent fatal collision a prosecutable offense. But he made a deal: purchase SR-22 insurance (an expensive  insurance designed for high-risk drivers) and meet other restrictions and he could keep the license. In fact, Epperlein blew off the SR-22 insurance, which resulted in a suspended-but not revoked- license. Driving on a suspended license is not as serious as driving with a revoked one.

A curious Arizona loophole, but one through which justice was lost, according to the family of the victim, Pamela Hesselbacher.

House Bill 2522 might change that. The bill would hold all repeat offenders who cause collisions leading to death or injury liable for their actions.

It’s too late for Pamela Hesselbacher, but the bill is a sensible one, designed to protect innocents on the road. It’s time to close this Arizona loophole and hold offenders responsible for the damage they do.

couple-riding-dwi-on-a-moped

A lot of people are riding mopeds in North Carolina because they have DWIs. Since no license or insurance is required to drive a moped in the state, the scooters are a logical means of transport for someone who’s lost his or her driver’s license. The last thing you’re thinking about is the possibility of a DWI on a moped.

But it’s very possible. Just because you need no license to pilot a moped, that doesn’t mean you can drunk-drive it with impunity. A Raleigh man found this out recently.

The man was riding his moped when he fell and injured himself. Police arrived and charged him with a DWI.

No License Doesn’t Mean Drunk Driving is OK

Even though you don’t need a driver’s license to operate a moped in North Carolina, the state’s impaired driving laws still apply. License or not, a moped is considered a motor vehicle according to the statutes.

What Keeps People From Driving Drunk? Interlocks!

Substituting a moped for a car was one man’s method of dealing with license suspension. The sad fact is that most people deal with license suspension by ignoring it and driving their regular vehicles. Statistics tell us that half to three quarters of suspended drivers get behind the wheel at some point. Those that tend to drive while impaired will do so, valid license or not.

That’s why the ignition interlock was invented. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Currently 30 states mandate the devices for all drunk driving offenses, and some require the interlock from the time of arrest – not after conviction. That ensures that the offender will not be drinking and driving.

A DWI on a moped is no joke – fines, imprisonment and other penalties apply. Remember that in cases like this, it’s a repeat DWI offense. Everyone in this case would have been better off if the offender had been in his regular vehicle with an ignition interlock instead. No other measure (apart from imprisonment, which is extreme and also costly to the taxpayer) ensures that a driver will be sober while he or she is behind the wheel. North Carolina should mandate ignition interlocks for all offenders, as 30 other states already do.

know-your-limit

Source: Scottsdale Police Department

The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety has been doling out wads of cash lately. The recipients are agencies that promote highway safety in all its forms. Recently the Marana Police Department received, among others, a $15,000 grant to expand its programs that raise awareness of the effects of alcohol.

It’s called the Know Your Limit grant, after the program of that name. The program stations officers at large gatherings where people drink, such has festivals and sports events such as last year’s Phoenix Open. Passersby are asked if they know what their blood alcohol limit is. Then they’re given breathalyzer tests to see if their estimate is correct.

It rarely is, and many people find they’re over the .08 legal intoxication limit. The program can be a revelation to many drinkers who don’t realize how strong alcohol is or how impaired they actually are.

Programs like Know Your Limit are vital because people usually estimate if they are “okay to drive” based on faulty criteria. If they have only had one or two drinks, or are steady on their feet and can speak without slurring their words, they assume they’re sober enough to be on the road.

In fact, almost any amount of alcohol causes some impairment, and that impairment is very much in evidence well below the .08 threshold. If, thanks to the Know Your Limit grant, a few thousand citizens of Marana get a true picture of how alcohol affects them, and as a result some of them might they skip driving. That $15K will then translate to lives saved. Our thanks to GOHS for doing Marana a solid.

alcohol-bad-judgment

Maybe she thought it was dark, so she could get away. It’s hard to know what’s on some people’s minds when they’re intoxicated.

Not long ago a woman crashed into a power pole in Burlington, North Carolina at about 3 in the morning. The crash knocked out power in the intersection.

Sensing that she was in trouble, the driver reportedly left the scene and hid not too far away. The police arrived, looked up the owner of the vehicle, and then searched the area until they found her. She was booked for DWI as well as hit-and-run.

The question is, why would someone flee a crash scene and leave her truck, to be identified by the police? Absolutely nothing is gained by that move, and of course, the charges are compounded by the fleeing.

Judgment – You Notice When It’s Not There

The answer is in the power of alcohol to cloud judgment. Judgment comes into play in many areas of driving:

  • How fast to drive under given road conditions. This includes how much to slow down in areas where pedestrians might pop out, such as school zones and near parks
  • How much time one has to make a left turn against traffic when an oncoming vehicle approaches
  • How much distance should be left between one’s vehicle and the one in front

All of these judgments can spell the difference between a safe trip and one that ends in a collision – or worse. It’s safe to say that someone who judges that it’s a good idea to flee a crash scene is not capable of making good driving decisions. Bad judgment is one of the reasons the charge of DWI exists.

Often people who think they are “okay to drive” are considering their physical coordination after a drink or two. They’re not considering their judgment, which the alcohol would have rendered less effective. And that’s the Catch-22 of alcohol – it robs you of the ability to understand what it’s robbing you of.

nc-drunk-driving-laws

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is tireless in its efforts to get states’ drunk driving laws to conform to the highest standards of effectiveness. Recently the organization released its 2018 Report to the Nation, which rates US states on their anti-impaired driving efforts. According to MADD North Carolina is far from the worst, but there’s some work to be done.

First, the good news: North Carolina has a good system of sobriety checkpoints in place. MADD approves of them as a way of nabbing drunk drivers. The state also criminalizes the refusal of a sobriety test – another measure which takes drunk drivers off the roads.

As to the areas in which North Carolina needs to improve, here is MADD’s prescription:

  • All-offender ignition interlock law. North Carolina needs to mandate the devices, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, for all drunk driving offenses, and not just repeat and high blood-alcohol offenses.
  • Compliance-based removing of interlocks. Ignition interlock devices should only be remove when the offender has passed a given number of months (usually four) with no failed tests.
  • Ignition interlocks available upon arrest.
  • Felony charge for child endangerment. North Carolina does prosecute drivers who drive drunk with a child, but it’s a misdemeanor charge. According to MADD, it should be a felony, as it is in a number of states.

The recommendations that MADD has made – not just for North Carolina, but for every state – are the result of a lot of study into what measures work to reduce the number of alcohol-related road fatalities. The general trend is toward the adoption of these laws. We hope North Carolina takes MADD’s recommendation seriously and steps up its anti-DWI game soon.

man-walks-into-dwi-arrest

Sometimes police spot drunk drivers on the road. Sometimes they stake out bars and taverns and wait for patrons to stagger into a DWI arrest. Sometimes they get called to a crash, and the driver turns out to be drunk. And of course, police in states like North Carolina man checkpoints to catch drunk drivers there.

But sometimes a drunk driver just delivers himself to the cops.

A group of Johnston County state troopers were holding their monthly meeting at a fire station when a man named Chad William Johnson walked in to drop off a job application. He immediately started shaking the troopers’ hands and thanking them for his service.

The cops notice the odor of alcohol, so one of the troopers gave Johnson a breathalyzer test, which he failed. In fact, he registered .18 BAC, more than twice the legal limit for intoxication. Since he had driven to the fire station, he was arrested for DWI and released on bond.

Was that fair? Absolutely. A driver who doesn’t notice a dozen or more patrol cars in a fire station parking lot is obviously not equipped to notice pedestrians or other unexpected road obstacles. And anyone who would drop off a job application in that condition is obviously not in possession of good judgment – another requirement for safe driving.

Most impaired drivers give cops more of a run for their money before they are caught. A good many cause damage, injury, even death, so all in all it’s fortunate that this driver was caught and taken off the road before anything happened.

And since the offender’s blood alcohol concentration was above .15, he should be getting an ignition interlock device in his vehicle, which will prevent him from starting the engine if he drinks.

No word yet as to whether he got the job.

jail-for-dwi

A glitch in North Carolina’s penal system is short-changing the state’s efforts to reform drunk drivers.

An article in The Marshall Project tells the story of North Carolina DWI offenders who are serving time – years – in jails that are meant for short-term stays. As a result, these offenders have no access to the facilities that prisons offer: drug and alcohol treatment, job training, and education.

Jail For DWI: How Good Intentions Fail

These offenders are in jails because North Carolina decided to reduce the state’s prison population in 2011 with the Justice Reinvestment Act. Misdemeanor offenders, including DWI offenders, were sent to jails instead of state prisons. At the same time, the state was getting tougher on drunk drivers, imposing mandatory sentences on certain DWI offenses. Both these moves had good intentions: the first was designed to reduce state spending and divert funds directly into communities. The second was to reduce drunk driving by getting tough on serious offenders.

There was a problem: as a result of these two moves, repeat DWI offenders, people with alcohol problems and other substance issues, are being sent to local jails where they get no treatment. When they are released, the chances are they will drive drunk again.

What Works: Sobriety Court Plus Ignition Interlocks

The most effective system for dealing with DWI offenders is the sobriety court/ignition interlock combination, which has been praised for the success this method has found in, for example, Michigan:

  • Offenders receive direct supervision by an officer who ensures that all aspects of the program are being followed.
  • Offenders go to regular treatment sessions and the results are shared with officers.
  • The court ensures that an ignition interlock – a device which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – is installed on the offender’s vehicle. In non-supervised settings, a large percentage of offenders don’t comply with the interlock order.
  • The interlock ensures that an offender retains driving privileges, and can therefore get to treatment.
  • The expense of incarceration is avoided.
  • Offenders can maintain or improve their employment situation, which would not be possible without the interlock and supervision.

Naturally, jail for DWI is sometimes called for. But in cases of long-term imprisonment, offenders must have access to treatment for the issues which caused them to be there. Making people sit in a local jail, without treatment, proper exercise facilities, or opportunities for education or self-betterment, is no way to improve a social ill.

You can’t imprison your way out of an alcohol problem. Better solutions are out there, at least for some of the offenders who are now in North Carolina’s jails.

mesa-drunk-drivers

It takes a lot of things to fight impaired driving: commitment, organization, and public support. Also police officers, cars, technology and good laws.

And money. Can’t do much without money to pay for the police and technology. Fortunately, the city of Mesa, Arizona has received a shot in the arm, in the form of 6 highway safety grants from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (GOHS).

The grants, which total well over a half million dollars, are in direct support of six areas of public safety:

  • DUI Abatement: Police personnel overtime, DUI task force events, and employee-related DUI enforcement expenses
  • DUI Enforcement Overtime: Aiding contiuous DUI enforcement, including holidays
  • Traffic Enforcement Overtime: To promote back to school safety and speed enforcement
  • Accident Investigation Training: Collision reconstruction
  • Accident Investigation Releated Materials & Supplies: Computers and monitors for detectives
  • Liquid Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer: 50% funding of a device for screening blood samples for intoxicating substances

The Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety is a linchpin of the state’s highway safety efforts.  The organization promotes public awareness of highway safety issues, and funds programs to fight speeding and impaired driving, and increase seat belt use, among other activities.

Those who think that DUI enforcement is largely a matter of pulling over suspicious drivers and giving them a breath test (though that is part of it) will be surprised at how much else is involved. The GOHS is aware that the better funded anti-drunk driving efforts are, the fewer Mesa drunk drivers will end up on the road. That makes them safer for everyone. We think it’s money well spent.

spouse-use-car-ignition-interlock-installed

If you’ve just been ordered to have an ignition interlock installed in your vehicle, you probably have some questions. One of the most common is: will my wife (or husband) be able to use my car after the interlock is put in?

Anyone Can Use an Interlock-Equipped Vehicle

The answer is that anyone can use a vehicle on which an ignition interlock has been installed. You just need to make sure of two things:

  1. The person using the vehicle needs to know how to operate it. That means the proper volume of breath and the right “hum” tone. Sometimes an interlock takes a bit of getting used to. At Monitech we’ll be happy to train anyone who uses your vehicle in the operation of the interlock device, at no charge.
  2. More important, you are responsible for any failed tests that occur with the interlock. So if you lend the car to a friend who fails the test due to drinking, you could be hit with the violation.

Knowing this, it’s important to allow a vehicle with an ignition interlock installed to be used only by people you know, and whom you trust to drive while sober. The device records every test and every driving session, but according to most state laws, the one ordered to install the interlock is the one to whom violations will be counted against.

Apart from exercising some caution about whom you let use your vehicle, there’s not much to owning and driving an interlock-equipped car. The purpose of the device is not to restrict but to enable – it enables motorists who are alcohol-free to go about their lives and drive where they want, legally and safely.

The answers to all your other ignition interlock questions here.

Happy driving to you and your spouse!

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