Arizona DUI Lawyers

Arizona's DUI Fatality Rate Is Cut in Half Over 15 Years

August 31, 2010
Share |

Phoenix, Arizona—As Labor Day weekend nears, Arizona will roll out its familiar, highly visible arsenal to combat drunken driving.

Bolstered by a tough set of laws, safety officials will flood the airwaves with ad campaigns and set up checkpoints.

About 300 people are killed by drunken drivers in Arizona every year.

Such tactics have helped the country and the state drive down the number and rate of deadly alcohol-related crashes in the three decades since drunken driving shot into the national conscience.

Yet one figure hasn't changed since the early 1990s: the proportion of drivers involved in fatal crashes who had illegally high levels of alcohol in their system.

Since 1995 Arizona has cut the fatality rate from drunken driving in half and closed in on the national rate, which itself tumbled nearly 30 percent.

In the same period, a steady 20 percent of U.S. drivers in fatal crashes had recordable blood-alcohol levels over today's legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08 percent. In Arizona, the rate was 30 percent in 1998. The next year, it tumbled to low-20s and stayed there.

Arizona safety experts blame the stubborn statistic on habitual offenders.

"There are a percentage of people out there, regardless of the enforcement, regardless of the penalties and everything else that are going to drive drunk because they think they are never going to get caught," said Alberto Gutier, who runs the Arizona Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

In 2008, the most recent year for which data are available, 324 people were killed by drivers who were known to have too much to drink, according to figures compiled by the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Beverly Mason-Biggers is senior office administrator for the southern Arizona affiliate of the non-profit Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She said that the campaign to eliminate impaired driving is working and that attitudes are changing, "but we have a long way to go." She thinks Arizona should do more to combat repeat offenders, including impounding cars and installing devices that stop cars from running.

In 2005, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studied why the share of drunken drivers in fatal crashes was unchanged.

"The leveling off of the alcohol-related driving trend raised questions as to whether these alcohol programs are still as effective in deterring impaired driving as they were before," the researchers wondered. They analyzed demographics, alcohol-consumption trends and laws against driving under the influence.

They concluded that a series of tough laws brought the drunkenness levels down from the 1980s and kept them down. Laws haven't changed much since, and the other contributing trends had slowed. Those included increasing numbers of women and older drivers and lower beer consumption.

"There are numerous ways you can measure drunk driving in the United States. As we work to eliminate this serious and deadly problem, the statistics do not necessarily move in unison," Karen Aldana, an NHTSA spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

Arizona's Tough DUI Laws

Arizona prides itself on being the toughest state in the country on DUI offenders, and with some cause.

This year, a new law took effect penalizing so-called superextreme DUI offenders, those with blood-alcohol levels of 0.20 percent or higher. First offenders of the new law face a minimum 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Since Arizona joined the nation in passing 0.08 percent DUI laws in 2001, the state has steadily stiffened penalties and lowered blood-alcohol thresholds. For instance, extreme DUI used to be measured at 0.18 percent but is now 0.15 percent blood-alcohol content.

Arizona drivers convicted of their first DUI must get ignition-interlock devices, which stop cars from starting if the driver's breath shows too much alcohol. Arizona has issued 19,000 of the devices, more than any state, MADD and Gutier said.

The state also makes existing laws more keenly felt.

Since 2003, the number of arrests for DUI, underage DUI and extreme DUI has ballooned about twelvefold, which far outpaces population growth.

Those trends, plus engineered safety improvements to cars and roads, have brought the fatal crash rate and the fatality rate involving alcohol-impaired drivers down. The decline mirrors a drop in traffic fatalities in general.

But it hasn't always been steady progress.

Figures kept by the Arizona Department of Transportation show an increase in alcohol-related fatality rates in 2005 and 2006. That differs from federal figures because the NHTSA uses a statistical model rather than relying solely on police reports to calculate drunkenness levels.

A Look at Prevention

For years, Arizona and U.S. residents have been hit with slogans to stop them from driving drunk, such as this year's "Drive Hammered, Get Nailed."

The Arizona Governor's Office of Highway Safety increased its spending on ad campaigns, training and enforcement by more than 800 percent from 2004 to 2010, to nearly $9.5 million.

Over time, those campaigns, along with enforcement and lawsuits against bars, have changed behavior, promoters say. More people call taxis or designate someone to drive sober, Gutier said. "Officers tell me the overwhelming majority of people partying say it's my turn to be the designated driver," he said.

MADD's Mason-Biggers said more can be done with laws and cars to further reduce drunken-driving accidents. "You can put sensors on the wheel to detect your alcohol content through your skin," she said, urging that these become as standard as seatbelts and airbags.

Highest Rated Law Firms
We provide professional attorney services for: