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Tag: Arizona

repeat-dui-offenders-arizona

A recent arrest in Arizona highlights one of the problems that states have with their DUI laws: creating  ones that keep repeat offenders off the road. In El Mirage a man was arrested for his fourth DUI, just five days after pleading guilty to his third.

Repeat drunk driving is a complex problem, partly because it’s not the whole problem. A study by the American Psychological Association noted that repeat drunk driving is part of a larger pattern which often includes other crimes and disorders. This condition – what psychiatrists called psychiatric comorbidity – is the reason that measure that punish drunk driving on its own don’t always work.

Ignition interlocks have a good record of reducing recidivism because they don’t work by punishing the offender, but by disabling the vehicle directly if the driver has been drinking. Many offenders, faced with this obstacle, re-evaluate their life choices and stop driving drunk.

Repeat Offenders Have Multiple Issues

There are persistent repeat offenders, and they must be dealt with differently, because they are very different people. The problems that lead to repeat drunk driving need to be addressed. In the study by doctors from Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance, repeat DUI offenders were placed in a 2-week in-patient treatment program. The program addressed not only alcohol abuse and dependence but also depression, gambling disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, attention deficit disorder, and other conditions.

Then came the work: lengthy treatment and follow-up. The result was that within a year, only 2.6 percent of the group had been arrested for another DUI. Within 5 years, only 7.5 percent had.

The Role of Ignition Interlocks

Ignition interlocks play a vital role in preventing first DUI offenders from becoming repeat offenders.  Extensive research has shown that the devices save lives by keeping drunk drivers off the road. While they work on their own, they are even more effective when part of a sobriety court or other program that includes treatment for the issues that accompany drunk driving behavior. Only when all-offender ignition interlock laws are accompanied by thorough mental health treatment will we make headway with serious repeat DUI offenders.

arizona-wrong-way-driving-law

It’s no surprise that Arizona’s Governor signed the wrong-way driving bill. No one likes wrong-way driving, which is dangerous and usually the result of alcohol. Thanks to the law, Arizona wrong-way driving is now an automatic felony, garnering between four and 30 months in prison.

The question remains, was this law the one the state really needs to fight drunk driving? Probably not. As we noted before, anyone drunk enough to drive the wrong way on a highway is not thinking about the consequences. The law might have some small deterrence effect – people might see that someone was put in prison after the DUI felony and resolve to be more careful about drinking and driving – but it’s not going to boost road safety significantly.

The Problem: Drinking and Driving

As some critics have noted, the root of the problem is drinking and driving, a problem Arizona has been wrestling with for a long time. In 2007 the state became one of the first to mandate ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenses, and this did bring down the toll of alcohol-related fatalities. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

The question, then, is what is left to do?

Enforcing Ignition Interlock Laws

It’s not enough to pass good ignition interlock laws – the states’ ignition interlock programs must be well-run. Arizona’s laws are good. One addition worth making would be an indigent fund to help subsidize those who cannot afford the cost of the program. The alternative for those people is either to stop driving and possibly lose their livelihood, or to drive in violation of the law.

Another would be to have the ignition interlock device available upon arrest, rather than waiting for conviction. That way, those who have a genuine alcohol problem would be prevented from driving drunk. They could also demonstrate their willingness to obey the law.

A Few Fixes On The Way

Arizona Senate Bill 1401 is working its way through the legislature. The bill would make some useful refinements to the state’s ignition interlock program. Among them is the provision for interlock providers to report in real time to AZDOT whenever a driver fails three rolling re-tests (tests while driving) in a row.

Like the Arizona wrong-way driving law, SB1401 will not shake things up. It will take better enforcement of existing laws – and not new ones – to further lower the DUI fatality rate on Arizona’s roads.

wedding-day-dui

It’s up there with the worst wedding memories ever, probably. A woman in Marana, Arizona caused a three-car crash not long ago. She was arrested and tested for impairment. That in itself wouldn’t be big news, even in Arizona, which is fairly sane in the drunk driving world. But the woman was wearing a wedding dress, and was on her way to her wedding when the crash occurred.

There could have been all kinds of reasons for a wedding day DUI. She might have been drinking that day. Or she might have had a very big celebration the previous night and was still impaired.

But why did she get behind the wheel? Perhaps she was in such a good mood that she didn’t think anything bad could happen.

No Day, However Special, Is OK to Drive Drunk

In some ways, every DUI incident is a result of this kind of magical thinking. We’ve had too many drinks, and decide to drive. We won’t crash, because we can handle it. We’re not that drunk. We know the roads. We’ll be careful. Arrests and crashes happen on the news, not to me.

Magical thinking is comforting, but it doesn’t work. Of the 30,000 or so fatal alcohol-related crashes that occur each year, and the many more alcohol-related crashes that don’t result in death, all of them involved drivers who thought they were okay to drive. Even if they knew they were drunk, they thought they’d find their way home.

We weren’t told if the driver in this case made it to the church. If she did, then her wedding anniversary will also be the anniversary of her DUI. Not one for the memory book, perhaps.

wrong-way-driving-arizona

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.

phoenix-self-driving-cars

If you carpool, you place your trust in whoever is driving that day. Chances are you’ll get where you’re going, but you never know when the person whose turn it is to drive will show up tired, preoccupied – or drunk.

Self-driving cars will fix that. The ones Waymo are working on are already plying the roads of Phoenix. More important, the company says it will be ready to start a commercial service next year, offering self-driving vehicles for commuting and running errands.

Recently Waymo has been publicizing its 360° experience, which gives passengers a panoramic view of the road around the vehicle. The purpose of the feature is to make riders comfortable with the idea of being ferried around by a van with no driver – something that still feels creepy to most people.

But the more interesting bit of news is the fact that the company is about to put the autonomous vehicles in general service.

An End to Drunk Driving?

There’s little doubt that a self-driving vehicle is superior to a human. Even if the cars aren’t perfect – and no technology is at first – they will definitely be more reliable than humans at the task of driving. They devote 100 percent of their attention to the road, are never tired or drunk, and don’t have any wrong ideas about the rules of the road. They never get angry or impulsive.

Whether humans will accept autonomous cars is another story. Crashes with self-driving cars get a lot of press. Once a fatality occurs – and it will happen – the real controversy will begin. Proponents will point to statistics – the number of fatalities will be much lower in percentage terms – but statistics don’t always win the battle.

Take It Slow

Until Waymo’s self-driving cars are proven safe and put in service, we have other means of keeping drivers, passengers and pedestrians from harm. We have drunk driving laws, BAC limits, and ignition interlocks to prevent people from starting their vehicles when they have been drinking.

Perhaps they won’t be needed one day. That’s fine. But for now, let’s keep at the fight against drunk driving. The time when all cars are autonomous is a long way off. In the meantime, it’s up to plain old, low-tech humans to enforce ignition interlock laws and keep the roads safe.

3-arizona-dui-charges-shirts

While a number of Arizona’s road safety laws could use some improvement, it’s well known that the state’s drunk driving laws are fine specimens that other states should imitate. One of the ways in which Arizona deals with the problem of impaired drivers is to put some thought into classification: not all drunk driving crimes are created equal.

Arizona police can charge you with one of 3 types of DUI, depending on your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

Standard DUI

If your BAC is at least .08 but below .15, you will face a standard DUI charge. This is a serious crime whose penalties include jail time and fines of around $1,500 for a first offense and more than twice that for a repeat offense. An ignition interlock is required for all DUIs in Arizona as well.

Extreme DUI

If you are arrested with a BAC of between .15 and .19 – a very serious level of impairment which makes the driver a lethal hazard on the road – you will be charged with Extreme DUI. In this case you could be imprisoned for a month and pay over $3,000 in fines plus other fees and costs – and that is only if it’s a first offense. In addition, you will have an ignition interlock for 18 months. If the extreme DUI is a repeat offense, expect to spend up to 6 months in jail and pay fines exceeding $3,700.

Super Extreme DUI

This charge is somewhat rare among US state laws. If you are arrested and your blood alcohol test reveals a concentration of above .20 – two and a half times the legal intoxication limit – you are in serious trouble. Jail time is 45 days, though home detention is a possibility after a few days. For repeat offenses, the jail sentence can be 6 months, with fines of about $4,600 plus other costs.

Screening for alcohol abuse problems and, if applicable, treatment is also a requirement for all of these offenses. For most of them, a community service requirement is also part of the package.

Why BAC?

There are a number of ways to judge the severity of a drunk driving offense. One is whether or not the driver caused property damage or injury. Another is whether a minor was put in danger. In fact, aggravating circumstances like those will have an effect on the sentencing as well.

But blood alcohol concentration is the primary gauge of DUI because the worse the impairment, the more likely that someone will come to harm. Statistics back that up, and Arizona is right to bump up penalties for high-BAC DUIs.

All drunk driving, however, is a crime, and enough people are killed and injured by people with a BAC in the low range that those offenses need to be taken seriously as well.

Over the ten years between 2007 and 2016, alcohol-related crashes in Arizona have gone from almost 8,000 per year to less than 5,000. Deaths have been lowered from 397 to 302, and injuries from 5,532 to 3,324. That’s a testament to Arizona’s determination to fight drunk driving with strong laws – including an all-offender ignition interlock law and extra penalties for extreme and super-extreme DUIs.

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