FARS 2021: Arizona among top 10 states for drunken driving deaths

yes, a drunk driver slammed into a Police car severely injuring Phx police officer Chase McCance in 2021

The NHTSA released traffic fatality figures, FARS, for calendar year 2021 a few weeks ago; to little fanfare and quite late as noted by Smart Growth America. Here’s an overview.

Arizona, once again, scores in several “top 10 lists” that nobody wants to be on, notably landing 8th on the list of top states for DUI-involved fatalities, despite being only the 14th most populous states.  Arizona among top 10 states for drunken driving deaths. (That azcentral story, by the way, had an interesting DUI case inserted with bodycam footage of the Cochise County Attorney being arrested for extreme DUI back in February).

A couple of things spring to mind regarding DUI, and driver behavior — the first is pro-active enforcement; I can’t seem to find current stats. The general feeling is that, for a variety of reasons, enforcement in general is down to the point where receiving a ticket from a police officer is almost non-existent (not to mention, photo-enforcement is vastly reduced, and the AZ legislature continues to attempt to outlaw it entirely). here’s some older (2017) thoughts and stats about dwindling enforcement.

The second is punishment for drivers who cause crashes that injure and kill people while DUI…

What are possible penalties for Impaired Driving?

Does Arizona have tough DUI laws? Well, it depends on who you ask, I would say no based on cases like that of drunk driver Eldorado Mukaj who injured (but not seriously) two — police officers, nonetheless — while very drunk and driving the wrong way on the freeway. He did not go to prison and received mostly probation, despite the fact that his crime was a serious felony, prosecutors allowed it to be sentenced as ‘non-dangerous‘, and a judge apparently went along with that legal fiction.

In any event here’s a current on-going (2022 crash CR2023-006473; minutes) anecdote where an off duty — and driving a city-owned vehicle — Scottsdale police det. Michael Lanouar is alleged to have been driving very drunk and rammed into another vehicle that was stationary. The occupants were injured; the legal definition of ‘serous injury’ is very broad, by the way (see here; and search down for “What is a ‘Serious Injury’?”). Scottsdale police officer indicted on aggravated assault and endangerment after DUI crash. Aggravated assault is a serious felony, but only results in serious punishment — agg assault should net about 10 years in prison — but only if  prosecutors seek, ‘dangerous’ crime status; in effect a sentence enhancer. Hard to believe but frequently impaired drivers who cause serious injuries aren’t considered ‘dangerous’ crimes.

So we’ll see what becomes of that one. [UPDATE: NOT MUCH! He ended up not being charged with assault; and got some probation, see comment below.

Dylan Ray Johnson who severely injured Phx Police officer Chase McCance on new year’s day 2021 mentioned in the photo above,  only got 4-5 year in prison, presumably thru prosecutorial jiggering. Agg Assault on a peace officer is a Class 2 felony. If Dangerous, requires a minimum sentence of 7 years (presumptive is 10.5) (CR2021-100079; so yes, jiggering involved saying the crime is non-dangerous; dropping some charges; and running the lesser charge concurrent)

See also dui-and-wrong-way-driving.

That all being said: perhaps it’s time for a serious re-think about punishments for criminal driver behaviors (including hit-and-run, DUI, neg homicide, etc)… shorter incarceration, coupled with longer license suspension/revocation along with significant monitoring for compliance.

Fars FIRST query tool

Fatality and Injury Reporting System Tool (FIRST) is a new tool from the NHTSA, it does look to be easier to use than the old FARS query, which is still available. The FIRST tool includes both Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and from the Crash Report Sampling System (CRSS), the latter being a statistical sampling of all (not just fatality involved) traffic crashes nationwide.

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