Editorial - Will tougher DUI penalties reduce the number of tragic deaths?

Every day countless lives are altered from the consequences of driving under the influence. Innocent lives are taken. DUI is clearly not a victimless crime. And in Arizona, DUI is not tolerated. State laws that went into effect on Sept. 19, 2007 clearly reflect zero tolerance.

However, are the stricter laws keeping more impaired drivers off the road? The Governor's Office of Highway Safety coordinated a statewide holiday drunken driving task force that ended Dec. 31. Statewide DUI arrests during the holiday season topped 2,800 and this year's total tops the number of DUI arrests in 2006 and 2005. In 2006, officers made nearly 2,700 arrests and in 2005, they arrested nearly 2,400. The number of DUI arrests has obviously increased, even though the penalties and fines have increased dramatically.

Why does the number of DUI arrests continue to increase? Are citizens ignorant of the new laws? Or is law enforcement taking a more proactive stance against impaired drivers?

Under the stiffer DUI laws, anyone convicted of DUI must have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicles. For a vehicle to start, the driver must blow into the device before the vehicle will start. If the driver's blood alcohol concentration level is above the legal limit of .08 percent, the vehicle will not start.

Penalties for those convicted of DUI (.08-.14 percent) include a $1,250 fine, 10 days in jail, 90 days suspended driver's license and an ignition interlock device for one year.

Penalties for those convicted of extreme DUI (.15-.19 percent) include a $2,500 fine, 30 days in jail, 90 days suspended driver's license and an ignition interlock device for one year.

Penalties for those convicted of super-extreme DUI (.2 percent or higher) include a $2,750 fine, 45 days in jail, 90 days suspended driver's license and an ignition interlock device for 18 months.

Add in attorneys' fees plus time missed from work, and the penalties for DUI increase significantly. Having a designated driver, choosing not to drink, calling a taxi for a ride or walking home is inexpensive compared to paying the fines and time spent incarcerated.

When impaired drivers choose not to drive, they are making the important choice not to harm themselves or others. We've said it before and we're saying it again - if you drink, please don't drive.

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