First time offenders will be forced to install breathalyzer interlock system
by Dan O’Connor and Matt Waggoner
published on Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Arizona will put into effect one of the toughest DUI laws in the country today.
Under the state’s new law, anyone convicted of driving under the influence with a .08 blood alcohol content level or higher will be legally required to have a breathalyzer interlock system installed in their vehicles if they wish to continue driving.
DUI arrests resulting in a .20 BAC or higher will now be categorized as “super extreme” and the convicted driver will be forced to spend a mandatory 45 days in jail.
The increased penalties will hopefully deter drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel, said Sgt. Mike Horn of Tempe police.
“Only time will tell with this,” Horn said. “Up to this point we’ve made changes in DUI laws and people just aren’t getting the message. Hopefully people are going to start getting the message now.”
In 2006, Tempe police reported 1,436 misdemeanor DUI arrests, which are classified by a BAC between .08 and .15. Tempe police statistics also reported 596 extreme DUIs, classified as anything more than a .15 BAC.
This year, DUI arrests are up 1 percent, statistics showed.
Most DUI arrests could have been prevented by finding a safe ride, Horn said.
“The likelihood that you will make a bad decision is much more probable after you’ve been out drinking all night,” he said. “The headache will be for those who continue to push the law.”
The goal of Arizona’s new DUI law is to stop people from making bad decisions that often lead to vehicular fatalities, Horn said.
Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe, was responsible for pushing mandatory breathalyzers for convicted first-time DUI offenders through the state legislature this summer.
“We’ve been anxiously awaiting this measure and can’t wait for it to take effect,” he said. “I hope that lives will be saved and there will be more of a fear for those people who choose to drive drunk.”
WHERE IT CAME FROM
Arizona’s recent adaptation of the law is modeled after New Mexico’s 2005 decision to enforce mandatory vehicle breathalyzers for all convicted DUI offenders.
“While the rest of the country is trending down [with DUI related fatalities], we have continued to increase,” Schapira said. “I, myself, was a victim of drunk driving when I was 16, and [changing the DUI trend] has always been an issue in the back of my mind.”
According to the DWI Resource Center, alcohol-related fatalities dropped by 11 percent the year stronger drunk-driving laws went into effect in New Mexico. During the same time, Arizona ranked sixth in the nation in alcohol-related fatalities, according to the Arizona Motor Vehicle Department.
University of New Mexico police officials said they find it difficult to pinpoint exactly how much of a difference the new law has made in regards to arrest rates on campus, but said the implementation has been evident within student life.
“The students are definitely getting the message,” said Pat Davis, spokesman for UNM police. “The students are renting drivers or designating drivers at residence halls to avoid trouble with DWIs.”
The new law will require lawyers to work overtime combating pending cases and will significantly change the way DUI cases are argued in court, said Scott Maasen, a Scottsdale attorney.
“The courts are going to be flooded with these cases because people are going to fight tooth and nail against these new penalties,” he said. “It’s going to change how we fight cases. [A first time offender] is a big deal now.”
Maasen, a 1993 ASU graduate, said he speaks to campus fraternities regularly regarding the necessity of responsible drinking, but expects the number of arrests to remain at a significant number.
He said he estimates that the number of vehicle breathalyzers in Arizona will increase by about 10,000 during the law’s first calendar year.
“You might see hundreds, if not thousands of breathalyzers in cars on campus this year,” he said. “It’s about getting the word out. You can’t stop college students from drinking, it’s about educating and being responsible.”
Breathalyzer ignition interlock systems can cost as much as $1,500 in installation fees, equipment cost, maintenance and removal.
But the majority of people neglect to even get their system installed, said Rodney Thomas, managing partner of Safe Harbor Interlock manufacturing company.
He won’t prepare for a surge in business, he added.
“Just because they are meant to get [a breathalyzer], doesn’t mean they are going to get it,” he said. “There’s only 30 percent of people that will actually get it. Most will drive on a suspended license.”
Safe Harbor is one of six legal interlock system dealers in Arizona. They offer their system for under $900, the cheapest in the state, Thomas said.
If the new law keeps drunk drivers off the street, it’s worth it, one ASU student convicted of a DUI said.
Communication junior Sam Delnoce was convicted of a DUI during his freshman year and said he paid more than $3,000 in fees resulting from his DUI.
“Overall it was just a huge inconvenience for me,” he said. “Riding the bus wasn’t that bad, but I spent a lot of time bumming rides from people and just trying to find a way to get to work.”
He said the experience has taught him to think twice before driving drunk.
“I feel however harsh the laws may be, driving with alcohol in your system is still the worst thing you can do,” Delnoce said. “It may be harsh, but it’s definitely warranted because countless people are driving with alcohol in their system every night.”