What are the new DUI laws that go into effect today? Most people do not really know what our legislature has done to the DUI law. Effective today, Arizona probably has the toughest DUI laws in United States. There are significant penalties for first time offenders. An article written by the Arizona Republic's Linsey Collon provides a summary of the new changes.
This week Arizona will enact one of the toughest DUI laws in the nation. Hardest hit are first-time violators and a new class of "super extreme" DUI offenders whose blood-alcohol concentration registers 0.20 percent or above, which is more than double the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
Beginning Wednesday, new penalties include mandatory ignition-interlock devices for first-time offenders, increased fines and a minimum of 45 days in jail for super extreme DUI convictions.
The law was modeled after legislation passed in New Mexico in 2005 requiring interlock devices for all people convicted of driving under the influence. Officials there linked a 4 percent decrease in alcohol-related fatalities to interlock use in the year following the law's passage.
Although lawmakers hope for a similar result in Arizona, DUI attorneys say the higher stakes will lead to increased court caseloads and an extreme inconvenience in the lives of "super extreme" and first-time offenders.
The Arizona Motor Vehicle Division expects about 17,000 first-time drunken drivers in the coming year. They all will have to pass a breath test before getting behind the wheel.
Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe, realizes the bill he sponsored may not win him votes in popularity, but he hopes the law will make Arizona's roads safer.
One Arizona State University student said during a recent chat with legislators " 'Gosh, that DUI bill is just ridiculous. Whose idea was this?' " Schapira said.
The negative response is understandable, he said, given that the penalties are meant to be strong deterrents.
Schapira, the Legislature's youngest member at 27, and his staff came up with a DUI bill earlier this year after learning about New Mexico's success. Although a victim of an alcohol-related crash in 1996, Schapira said he hadn't fully realized the problem of drunken driving in Arizona.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records show Arizona had the sixth-highest number of alcohol-related fatalities in the nation. There were 585 alcohol-related fatalities statewide in 2006, up 15 percent from 2005.
Overall, drunken driving has significantly decreased in the past 20 years, but the state has hit a plateau, said Ericka Espino, executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving Arizona.
"Saturation patrols certainly help, as do sobriety checkpoints, and we're thankful," Espino said. "Unfortunately, Arizona's numbers are not going down. . . . We need to figure out what's going on. We truly believe ignition interlock is the solution for us: It takes the weapon out of the hands of the drunk driver."
The law, which was signed by Gov. Janet Napolitano in May, made Arizona the second state to require ignition-interlock devices for first-time offenders. Louisiana and Illinois also followed suit.
Interlock devices are wired beneath the dash of a vehicle and require a clean breath sample to start the car. Most units will prevent the car from starting if a blood-alcohol content of 0.03 percent or above is detected. A person has three tries to blow a clean sample before the device shuts down and requires a technician to recalibrate it.
About 100,000 people in the U.S. use the devices; about 7,000 of those are in Arizona, according to MVD records. Most, if not all, users in Arizona are repeat offenders.
The harsh new stance on drunken drivers has its share of detractors. Critics say interlock devices are expensive to maintain and provide a short-term answer to a long-term problem.
The offender pays for the device, which typically costs $100 for installation and about $80 a month to maintain. Most first-time offenders will have the device for 12 months. That cost is in addition to the more than $1,000 in fines imposed for a DUI conviction.
And studies have shown that while interlock devices are effective while in use, drivers tend to slip into old habits once the units are removed.
"We recognize that many offenders may have an alcohol dependency that underlies their drinking-and-driving behavior," said Anne McCartt, vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "Even if interlocks don't prevent drinking and driving when they're removed, it can reduce drinking and driving while they're installed, and we think that's important."
The article goes on to point out that the new law requires those charged with the new "super extreme" violations (BACabove a .200) must serve at least forty-five (45) days in jail. The likely result of these new penalties is that more people will take there there cases to trial. Since the penalties are so server for first time offenders, there is little incentive for a person to enter into a plea agreement.