Did You 'Drive Hammered' And 'Get Nailed' This Labor Day?

Arizona’s DUI task force arrested nearly 1,800 people for driving under the influence during a National Impaired Driving Crackdown campaign, which began Aug. 20 and ended on Labor Day. Does that number seem high to you? It should! Last year during the same time, there were just over 1,300 arrests. Given all of the campaigning and publicity year in and year out, why are we arresting an increasing number of impaired drivers?

The answer could be that Arizona increased the number of officers assigned to the task or it could simply be that the old offenders are the new offenders. In other words, Arizona safety experts believe that the habitual offenders are keeping those statistics high.

Arizona has some of the toughest laws in the country when it comes to penalizing DUI offenders. For example, anyone convicted of any DUI is faced with some jail time and must have an ignition interlock device installed on any car they drive. The higher a person’s blood alcohol level content (BAC), the higher the penalties are. The penalties also increase if you have a prior conviction for DUI. A first offender with a BAC below 0.150 is faced with a minimum of 24 consecutive hours in jail and approximately $1,860 in financial penalties. On the other hand, a person with a second offense “Super Extreme DUI,” BAC above 0.200, is faced with a minimum sentence of 180 days in jail and nearly $18,295 in financial penalties.

On the positive side, Arizona’s DUI fatality rate has been cut in half since 1995. About 300 people are killed each year by a drunk driver in Arizona, and in 2008 (the most recent year for which we have statistics) the exact number was 324.

While awareness campaigns to end drunk driving and encourage people to find a “designated driver” are working, we still have a ways to go. The reduction in fatalities might be credited to the increase in female and older drivers, two groups who are less likely to drive drunk. But, let’s not rely on the changing demographics of Arizona drivers to lower the number of fatalities. Rather than waiting another 15 years to cut that 324 in half, will we see the day when we have no fatalities as a result of drunk driving? It’s certainly something we can work toward.

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