ignition interlocks keep 2.3 million from driving drunkImagine if every person in Phoenix, Tucson and Scottsdale took to the road drunk — 2.3 million people, each under the influence of alcohol. It would be a pretty horrific scenario.

It isn’t going to happen, but it almost happened, in a way, in slow motion. Over the past 10 years 2.3 million people tried to start their cars and trucks, and were stopped because their ignition interlock kept the ignition off. The device wouldn’t let them drive under the influence.

Ignition interlocks, or car breathalyzers, prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

2.3 million is a lot of people – the entire population of the aforementioned three cities. They were spread out over 50 states and 10 years, so you don’t have to worry about swerving cars knocking over the Barry Goldwater Memorial or clipping the pillars of the Gammage Auditorium.

But it’s an enormous number of drunk drivers, many of whom would have done damage to themselves or other people. The only line of defense for society was the ignition interlock, and it worked. The data is revealed in a new report from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

The idea of totaling up all the successful interventions by the device is to point up the effectiveness of ignition interlocks in saving lives. The widespread problem of drunk driving in America has generated a lot of debate but few solutions that work. Interlocks are a proven solution, most effective when mandated for all DUI offenses, including first offenses.

MADD promotes five measures to combat drunk driving:

  • Ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenderse
  • Sobriety checkpoints
  • ALR (Administrative License Revocation) for all offenders immediately upon arrest
  • Child endangerment laws, imposing more severe punishments on drunk drivers who have a minor as a passenger
  • No refusal laws, which impose penalties for anyone refusing a breath test

More than twenty states have yet to pass an all-offender ignition interlock law. Is it important that they do? Think of those 2.3 million instances of drunk driving that never happened, and how many more might not happen if those interlocks are in place. We could be looking at the population of LA or New York in a few years.

That’s a lot of people. Let’s help them not drive drunk, all right?

dui in arizona for st patricks dayWhat’s going on, people?

You were alerted. Before St. Patrick’s Day announcements went out proclaiming that police departments everywhere were cracking down in drunk drivers. Patrols would be out looking for anyone who showed signs of impairment.

Enforcement was massive and coordinated: DUI checkpoints, saturation patrols, and other types of enhanced enforcement helped round up drivers who were under the influence, and helped deter others who were contemplating driving when they shouldn’t have.

And it wasn’t just patrols. In Chandler, police were at the Shamrock Festival promoting awareness of impaired driving issues through the “Know Your Limit” program. The program helps people understand how much (or little) alcohol it takes to have one’s faculties compromised. There were posters and news reports reminding drivers to find a designated driver.

And designated drivers were there. Maricopa County offered rides through a partnership with the rideshare service Lyft. Triple-A had its “Tipsy Tow” service as well, allowing drivers to get themselves and their vehicles home safely.

That was excellent – but apparently not good enough for 509 people who were arrested for DUI in Arizona – first-time, aggravated, extreme, underage, and drugged.

So we ask: what were you thinking? Did you think you were less drunk than you really were? Were you ashamed to call a friend and ask for a ride?

Or did you fail to plan? Rule one for any evening out is to have a plan: decide beforehand how you’ll be getting home if you’re drinking. Did all of the messages we broadcast escape you?

We’re asking because no matter how many laws we enact, no matter how many commercials we air or signs we post in bars, a certain percentage of you still drink and drive. And in doing so, you endanger others on the road.

There’s no way the police can catch every DUI in Arizona, and apparently there’s no way to get through to everyone who has the potential of driving drunk. All we can do is prevent people from reoffending through ignition interlocks and alcohol counseling and treatment. And since Arizona mandates ignition interlocks – devices which prevent a drinker’s vehicle from starting – for all DUI offenses, there will be more interlock-equipped cars on the road soon.

We don’t know what you were thinking on that weekend. But we hope that next time, you do think. And you find another, sober way home.

A trend that has been sweeping legislatures across the country has hit North Carolina. Currently 29 states mandate ignition interlocks for all DWI offenses, and a group of lawmakers want North Carolina to be number 30.

An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

States which have mandated the devices for all offenders, including first offenders, have seen a downturn in alcohol-related road deaths. An all-offender laws is a logical move that other are debating as well.

Currently the state requires the devices for DWI convictions of people arrested with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15. The new law would require them for anyone with a BAC of .08 or more.

Something Different for NC: Different BAC Device Limits

One interesting departure in the North Carolina bill is the way in which the legislators would like the interlocks to operate. Usually, an ignition interlock will trigger a warning if the tester’s BAC is below a pre-set level – usually .02 or .025.

The current bill would move the low limit to .04 for first offenders. In other words, they could possibly have one drink and then drive right after or soon after.

For repeat offenders and underage offenders, the level would be zero. Any alcohol at all in one’s system would prevent the vehicle from starting.

It’ s an interesting compromise, one that allows for light drinking for first offenders who wish to drive, and then allows for none at all for repeat offenders. This provision would get around the objections that some have that ignition interlocks are too harsh on first offenders.

We don’t agree with that, and we’d be uneasy with a convicted DWI driver who then was permitted to drive under any influence. A .04 BAC level is not that low – there is some impairment, though of course that would vary depending on the person’s age, size, sex, and other factors.

Is this compromise what’s needed to finally get an all-offender ignition interlock law off the ground in North Carolina? Perhaps. In any case, it shows that North Carolina is on board with ignition interlocks as a measure for combating drunk driving. Maybe they’ll tweak the numbers later and make the law a bit safer, after the program proves itself as a life saver.

Drunk driving is an unusual crime for a couple of reasons. One is that, unlike other crimes, it comes with its own measurable, standardized physical evidence. Test a driver for alcohol, and you know whether or not you have a drunk driver on your hands.

The other side of the coin is that the evidence disappears quickly. Fingerprints, bodies and DNA stick around, but a few hours after a person has driven drunk their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is  back to zero. The evidence is gone.

That’s why police often have to act fast to obtain evidence of drunk driving. This is going to be harder in Arizona now. The State Supreme Court has ruled that police can’t have DUI blood samples taken from an unconscious suspect without a search warrant or special urgent circumstances.

The fact that the evidence will soon disappear is not considered an urgent circumstance.

The ruling is based partly on a U.S. Supreme Court decision on warrantless blood draws, and it also makes reference to Fourth Amendment privacy laws.

The Unconscious DUI Suspect

The case in question was an incident in which a driver was found unconscious after a collision. Blood was drawn, and his BAC was found to be .21, or more than twice the legal limit. The defendant wanted the blood evidence suppressed, on the grounds that the blood draw was a warrantless search.

But… Implied Consent!

Arizona has an implied consent statute in its motor vehicle laws. This statute says that anyone who operates a motor vehicle gives consent to blood tests for alcohol or drugs. Moreover, dead or unconscious people are not excepted from this clause. That seems to sew things up. So what happened?

The court went with another U.S. Supreme Court case, Missouri v McNeely. The opinion stated that the “physical intrusion” of a needed involves “an individual’s most personal and deep-rooted expectations of privacy.”  So even with implied consent, the state must require either voluntary consent or a warrant, except in cases where a obtaining a warrant in time is impossible – and not just because of the dissipation of the alcohol.

What Does This Mean for Arizona DUI Enforcement?

Police who want to take a DUI blood sample from an unconscious suspect will either have to have a warrant, or will have to show more cause that they couldn’t get a warrant than just that time was running out on the BAC evidence in the blood.

For the record, it was not always customary to draw blood from unconscious suspects. In the early days of drunk driving laws – the 1930s and 1940s – it was considered an unfair invasion of privacy. As a result, a driver who drunk enough to become unconscious was able to escape the prosecution.

That’s not the purpose of this ruling, and we hope it doesn’t have similar results.

North Carolina - prison for felony DWI deathThe message: you can’t kill someone with a vehicle while drunk and not serve jail time. That’s the essence of the bill that the North Carolina House approved recently.

At the core of the argument surrounding the bill is judicial discretion – the belief that a judge should have leeway in sentencing offenders because each case and each defendant is different, and justice can only be served if the sentence reflects the situations of the individuals involved.

Right now a person who drives drunk and kills another person in North Carolina normally gets 38 to 58 months in prison. However, a judge can opt not to send a first offender to jail.

The bill just passed, House Bill 65, removes the judge’s ability to keep a first offender out of jail. A sentence of at least 14 months would be mandatory for anyone guilty of felony DWI death.

Accountability and the Felony DWI Death Debate

Legislators who voted for the bill want to ensure that all drunk drivers whose actions have such serious consequences are held responsible for those actions. Admittedly, it disturbs many that someone could cause the death of another through reckless behavior and not serve any prison time. But opponents of the measure believe that not all DWI deaths are equal. A teenager who crashes on his first drinking bout might not be the best candidate for imprisonment, while a 40-year-old repeat drunk driver who has had ample warnings and chances would be a different case.

Nothing is settled yet. The House Bill 65 still faces approval in the State Senate. The debate will continue: on one side, those who are fed up with seeing offenders get off with light sentences, and on the other, those who believe that we have judges in order to get the benefit of their discretion in fitting punishment to the crimes and criminals at hand.

While dealing with DWI death is an important issue, it’s not the only one that needs attention in North Carolina. Mandating ignition interlocks for all DWI offenders has been proven to reduce instances of the very crime House Bill 65 is dealing with right now. North Carolina should make the devices mandatory for all DWIs over .08 BAC, and require that the devices are only removed when the offender has gone several months with no failed tests (compliance-based removal). A stronger ignition interlock law would mean fewer DWI deaths overall – and less need for judges to impose such serious prison sentences.

Wrong-Way Drivers are lethalWe’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Wrong-way drivers are one of the most lethal results of drunk driving.

It’s just a wrong turn or a sign ignored, but in seconds you will see cars scatter and swerve. You’ll hear horns blare and too often then the crunch of metal on metal. It’s something drivers are never prepared for, and every year wrong-way drivers, usually drunk, take lives and cause injury.

On a Wednesday morning two such drivers were reported on the same road: SR-51 in Phoenix. One made about 10 miles before crashing into the police car that was in pursuit. The second one managed to be arrested before a crash could occur.

Is There a Drunk Driver on Your Road Now? Probably.

Two wrong-ways within the same hour? What are the chances? In fact, all too good. In one estimate, one in 12 drivers on the road after 11 pm is impaired. If there were, say, 50,000 cars driving on that given morning, during the 11-to-5 period, then some 4,100 drivers would be under the influence. That’s too many for any patrol to suss out. It’s not surprising that on one night two drivers had enough to leave behind their coordination entirely.

The scary conclusion is that impaired drivers are startlingly common. That’s why it’s vital to take precautions to ensure that those who are caught don’t reoffend. Ignition interlocks, alcohol treatment programs and sobriety courts are proven methods of taking DUIs off the roads and shifting the odds in favor of the sober driver’s getting home in one piece.

arizona golf cart duiThis story has everything – or at least, everything that has come to typify our offbeat drunk driving stories. See if we’ve missed any elements.

Sports figure. The story concerns David Parry, defensive lineman for the Indianapolis Colts, who was recently arrested in Scottsdale. According to the NFL Player Arrest database maintained by USA Today, Parry is the first NFL player this year to be nabbed for DUI. There were ten last year.

Opinions are divided about whether or not athletes are over-represented in DUI court. The vast majority of sports figures get through any given year without driving drunk. But we do see a lot of arrests in the news. Is it just that they get more coverage?

Wee hours. This incident happened at 2:15 a.m., which is rush hour for DUIs. Most drunk driving arrests happen in the hours between midnight and 3 a.m., when those who have had too much at a bar or party are heading home.

Saturday. Weekends are prime time for drunk driving, for obvious reasons.

Young male. David Parry is 24, right in the top demographic for DUI arrests. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD),  the highest percentage of drunk drivers are in the 21 to 24 age bracket, followed by ages 25 to 34. Drunk driving skews young.

Unusual vehicle. Most drunk driving occurs in cars and trucks, but the definition of motor vehicle is wide, and the definition of impaired driving is even wider. People have gotten DUIs on Segways, scooters, riding mowers, snowmobiles, Zambonis, tractors, and horses. In this case, Parry commandeered a golf cart and drove off. A Golf cart DUI is much more common than you might think.

Multiple charges. Parry allegedly punched a golf cart driver, stole the vehicle, and drove away. When apprehended, he struggled with the officers. The charges included robbery, car theft, criminal damage, resisting arrest and, of course, a golf cart DUI.

A lesson. Almost all of the DUI stories we read end badly – or else how would we be reading about them? So the lesson is a pretty obvious one – don’t drink and drive. Whether you are young or old, male or female, an NFL player or a short-order cook, and whether it’s 2 a.m. or high noon – you need all your faculties and judgement to drive safely. With alcohol, you don’t have them, and you end up in trouble.

Drive sober – please!

madd donuts save livesMost of us love donuts, but we consider them a guilty pleasure, not a device for saving lives. But recently MADD partnered up with Dunkin’ Donuts in Arizona to rally the latter’s circular pastries to the cause of ending drunk driving. And it worked.

On February 28th public-safety-minded and donut-minded citizens of Arizona could purchase MADD donuts which bore the organization’s acronym and the red ribbon design. Fifty cents of each $1.09 donut was donated to MADD to further their efforts to bring about stronger anti-drunk driving laws, to support drunk driving victims, and educate the public on the dangers of impaired driving.

madd donuts in Arizona

Photo: twitter.com/maddonline

The point isn’t the MADD donuts, though they were no doubt delicious. It’s that community support is one of the ways that MADD can do its work even better. We look forward to the day when businesses all over the country, partner with MADD and help raise money to make drunk driving a thing of the past.

In the meantime, pass the donuts.

drunk driving in arizona hiding treeAll right. Let’s see what we can learn from this one. Arizona troopers last week got a report of a rollover near 56th Street in Phoenix. They arrived and found the crashed truck – but no driver.

It didn’t take long to locate the one responsible for the rollover. A man fell out of a tree near the scene. He’d been hiding there to avoid the police.

In a successful attempt to do something even stupider, the suspect attacked the police, who quickly subdued him before he could do any harm. He’s been booked for aggravated assault and – no surprise here – DUI.

It’s hard to pin down what this drunk driver hoped to achieve by hiding in a tree. Was he expecting the police to just go away, leaving a rolled-over truck at the side of the road? Did he think he couldn’t be traced?

Or was he just hoping to hide until the effects of the alcohol wore off and he couldn’t be charged with DUI. Drunk driving in Arizona is not well-tolerated by state authorities. The law mandates ignition interlocks for all offenders, and levies stiff fines and prison sentences.

And falling out of the tree and attacking the police? Those illustrates the impairments that make drunk driving so dangerous in the first place: a lack of physical coordination and poor judgement. The suspect showed plenty of both during this incident.

And that’s about all we can learn from this incident. Drive drunk, and you’ll find yourself up a tree.

woman tries to bypass an ignition interlockIt never ends well, but some people try it anyway.

After an Arizona DUI, an ignition interlock device is mandatory. Most people get with the program and drive responsibly, but a few think they can bypass an ignition interlock, which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

A woman in Phoenix has been charged with an attempt to bypass an ignition interlock device in the most reckless way possible: having a child blow into the interlock.

With a blood alcohol concentration of .17 – twice the legal limit – Kimberly Copeland drove with three children in the car. That in itself constitutes child endangerment, a Class 6 felony. In Arizona, if you drive while impaired with a passenger under 15 years old, you could face a number of punishments:

  • One year minimum in prison
  • Large fines in addition to standard DUI fines
  • Long term license revocation
  • Mandatory ignition interlock

The catch-22 here is that the perpetrator already had an interlock. This fact might lead some to conclude that interlock devices don’t work. But there is proof that they do, most recently from a well-publicized Idaho AAA study. We also know that people reckless enough to endanger their children are rare. Moreover, as people who would resort to this tend to have serious alcohol dependency issues. They stand out on the road, get picked up, and find themselves back in court before long – which is exactly what has happened in this case.

Most offenders who go through an ignition interlock program do not reoffend. Some do reoffend after the interlock is removed, and they find themselves back on the device for a longer period. That’s how the devices protect the public and greatly reduce the danger of drunk driving on the roads.

The few extreme offenders who endanger children in an effort to cheat their interlock eventually find themselves in prison. All in all, the technology is responsible for saving thousands of lives each year – including the lives of children. Extreme offenders, too, can benefit from the restraint of an interlock, when it is combined with a well-monitored program of substance abuse counseling and rehabilitation.

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