A while back we wrote about a bill going through the Arizona legislature designed to deal with the problem of wrong-way drivers. If passed, the law would make wrong-way driving an automatic felony, requiring a fine and traffic classes.
The bill has been passed by a Senate panel, and now goes to the full Senate for a vote.
Are We Happy?
No one wants to see a car in the wrong lane, driving at them. It’s a uniquely scary experience, which no doubt accounts for the ease with which this bill is sailing through the legislature. But some voices are not as confident that the law will accomplish anything.
What Causes Wrong-Way Driving?
The reason: people are usually driving the wrong way because they’re drunk. So stronger measures against drunk driving would probably make more sense than legislating against one symptom of drunk driving, albeit a very dangerous one.
In 2012 the National Transportation and Safety Board published an analysis on the problem of wrong-way driving. Their findings:
- 10 percent of wrong-way drivers in the study had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) between .08 and .15 (.08 is the legal level of intoxication nationally)
- 59 percent had a BAC at or above .15 – referred to as “super drunk” in some states
- 9 percent of wrong-way drivers had had a DUI in the previous 3 years (contrasted with 3 percent of the control group)
Alcohol, then, is a large part of the wrong-way driving problem, and an increased penalty for wrong-way driving is not going to address it, simply because a person getting behind the wheel with a BAC of .15 does not know or care he or she is driving the wrong way until the arrest – or the collision.
Get At The Cause
A more sensible approach would be to better enforce drunk driving laws. Arizona already mandates ignition interlock for all DUI offenses, which is good. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.
The state should add to its interlock law compliance-based removal – ensuring that a person with an ignition interlock does not have it removed unless he or she can pass a set number of months with no failed tests. Any attempt to drive after drinking would result in a longer interlock term.
No one wants drivers to drive the wrong way. If legislators feel better passing a law against it, then fine. But they will need to keep an eye on the cause of wrong-way driving if they really want to save lives in Arizona.