Super Extreme

The latest crop of new DUI laws goes into effect soon. The most notable changes are mandatory ignition interlocks for any, including first time, DUI, and a new category of above extreme DUI.

In the beginning, the legal limit was 0.10 BAC — that was gradually replaced in every US state around the 1990’s with 0.08 BAC. Around that time (same time?) Arizona added a second category called extreme DUI as 0.15 BAC and above. So now we have yet another category as above 0.20 BAC. The penalty for this new category includes mandatory 45 day jail sentance, with no judicial discretion possible.

Whether any of this is helping is highly debatable. “Officials there [New Mexico] linked a 4 percent decrease in alcohol-related fatalities to interlock use in the year…” I’m going to say is quite possibly a statistical outlier.

It is clear that Arizona has a problem with drunk drivers, what seems to be missed is that the drunk drivers are just a subset of more numerous dangerous drivers. As I noted when the 2006 fatality stats came out, the media dwells on DUI, missing the overall story entirely — Arizona had the largest increase in fatalities in the entire nation.

Tough DUI law to begin

First offenders must use ignition devices

Lindsey Collom, The Arizona Republic
Sept. 16, 2007 12:00 AM

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.

Sixth-highest in U.S.
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.

Law drawing critics
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.”

DUI defense attorney Mark Weingart said clients have been clamoring for information on whether the new law will affect pre-existing cases. It doesn’t, but Weingart warned that he expects courts to see a spike in the number of DUI cases that are challenged.

Most of Weingart’s clients have been arrested on suspicion of having a blood-alcohol content over the legal limit or are in the new “super extreme” category with a blood-alcohol content of 0.20 percent or above.

Under the new law, the sentence for a first-time conviction of super extreme DUI nets at least 45 days in jail and a judge is prohibited from suspending any part of the jail time. Previously, a judge could suspend most of the sentence upon completion of a court-sponsored drug or alcohol program.

“Now I think defense lawyers are going to have to learn to exploit all of the potential for error there is in blood or breath testing,” Weingart said. “We’re talking about a situation here where if somebody has a blood test of .1999, you have 10 days in jail. If it’s one-thousandth of a point higher, it’s 45 days.

“I think people are going to have to fight these DUIs harder than ever before.”

In New Mexico, that’s exactly what happened.

David Crum, a DUI attorney in Albuquerque, said more first-time-offense cases have gone to trial since the 2005 interlock law was enacted.

Although first-time offenders see interlocks as inconvenient, multiple offenders embrace the device, Crum said.

“For a lot of people, it’s been helpful,” Crum said. “I know it’s probably weird to hear me say that. When you get repeat offenders in New Mexico, it’s easier for me to say we can make a deal where you can still drive anytime, anywhere as long as you have an interlock in your car.”

Advocates hope that the state’s new law will be tough and inconvenient enough to deter drunken driving.

“The biggest argument we kept hearing is it’s such an inconvenience for the first-time offender,” Espino said. “It’s either an inconvenience or someone possibly injuring or killing themselves or others. To me, it’s no question. Ultimately, it will save lives.”