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super extreme DUIIn fixing drunk driving charges, most states make a distinction between run-of-the mill intoxicated and extremely drunk. The principle is that it’s worse to drive if the alcohol level is high enough to make a driver unable to control his or her vehicle at all.

Some states use “drunk” and “super drunk.” Arizona, however, has three levels of inebriation that its courts recognize:

  • DUI: Driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 08 percent or above
  • Extreme DUI: Driving with a  BAC of  .15 or above
  • Super Extreme DUI: Driving with a  BAC of  .20 or above.

What a BAC of .355 Means

Recently a woman was arrested for killing a motorcyclist while speeding at more than 80 miles per hour, and being drunk at the time. Her blood alcohol level was .355, more than four times the legal limit, and more than twice the Extreme DUI level.

At that level, a person is unable to walk unassisted. They are disoriented, depressed, and usually racked with nausea. Blackouts are common – at this level alcohol poisoning is very possible.

Yet it might be possible to step on the gas and reach 100 miles per hour, as the offender did.

A super extreme DUI is fairly rare, only because most people with that much alcohol in them are not coordinated enough to drive. But when a person can get on the road with a BAC that high, the results will almost certainly be disastrous, as they were in this case.

And though the crime is not common, it makes sense for Arizona to employ the distinction, so that those who do drink such staggering amounts and drive face consequences that are more severe. Extreme DUI is truly drunk driving on a different and more lethal level.

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.


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.

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