Thanks to Arizona's new drunk driving laws, even first time offenders could land themselves in prison. Effective October 2007, the state's driving under the influence (DUI) laws are recognized as the harshest in the nation.
Although Governor Janet Napolitano signed the bill into law after it was approved overwhelmingly in the House and Senate. However, it was met with some resistance. Opponents felt it unfairly penalized those who were otherwise responsible citizens.
One of the most significant changes is the mandatory 45 day jail sentence for first timers that are found to have a blood alcohol level of twice the legal limit or higher. The current limit is .08%. The new laws classify them as “super extreme" offenders when chemical tests reveal a blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, of .20% or more. Incidentally, refusing to submit to the test, whether convicted or not, results in an automatic one year license suspension.
As tough as that seems, jail time is only the beginning. The newly convicted “super extreme" drunk drivers will be required to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle. At one time, only repeat offenders were required to have it installed.
According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, this mandatory piece of equipment is designed to connect a breath analyzer to a motor vehicle's ignition system.
The ignition interlock system, referred to as an IID, will only allow the vehicle to start if the monitor shows the blood alcohol concentration to be below a predetermined and preset level. The ignition is simply disabled if the reading exceeds the specified number.
The IID must be installed and in use for a minimum of twelve months after the DUI conviction and judges have no authority to waive or reduce that period of time. They can, however, order additional time for the device to remain in use.
Because the penalties are so stiff, Arizona attorneys are gearing up to defend more first time offenders in court. Prior to last year, clients didn't necessarily face jail time, especially for a first offense. They were usually told to expect warnings, fines and probation, or what amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist. Now they expect many will want to present a challenge rather than automatically plead guilty or no contest.
The new law is also written to expedite the whole DUI process for law enforcement. It allows the Motor Vehicle Department to examine their own records for previous DUI offenses. Rather than waiting for the courts to send them, they can now effectively cut through the red tape and reduce turnaround time.
It's a sobering thought for many Arizona residents and rightfully so. In 2006, there were 315 lives lost and over 59,000 injuries as a result of alcohol related crashes. The economic loss is estimated at upwards of $547 million. Those statistics and the new laws should make anyone think twice before driving and drinking.