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Report: Arizona strictest in nation in punishing drunk drivers

police-620All those years of legislators toughening up the state’s drunk-driving laws apparently have paid off – at least on paper.

A new report Tuesday by the financial advice web site WalletHub says Arizona is the strictest state in the nation when it comes to cracking down on people driving under the influence of alcohol. Read the full report at http://wallethub.com/edu/strictest-states-on-dui/13549/

What’s driving much of Arizona’s rating is that state law says a first-time conviction of drunk driving results in a mandatory 10-day jail sentence. No other state is stricter.

But that specific ranking may not be entirely justified.

The same law allows a judge to reduce that to one day if the person completes a court-ordered alcohol or other drug screening, education or treatment program. And Alberto Gutier, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said that one day actually may have been served by the time the person appears in court for arraignment.

But WalletHub did not just base Arizona’s tough ranking solely on that 10-day jail term.

A second offense draws a 90-day jail term, the third toughest laws in the nation, though Gutier said that, too, can be reduced to 30 days. And a third offense is automatically considered a felony, putting Arizona among the Top 10 in that category.

Arizona is not quite as tough in the area of fines, with a $250 minimum for a first offense and $500 for a second.

In that case, however, the numbers may be misleadingly low. Arizona law adds various surcharges for everything from judicial training to public financing of campaigns, with those additional charges coming close to doubling the original amount.

Arizona also got points for laws which require even first-time offenders to install special engine “interlocks” following a conviction, devices which prevent a vehicle from starting unless it senses a “clean” breath sample. And state law also has police impound the vehicles of those who are arrested.

Gutier said the WalletHub rankings show that Arizona already has all the laws it needs to help keep drunk drivers off the roads.

“We need to enforce what we have,” he said.

He said the state has made great strides in that area in the last few years, with more officers on the road conducting more traffic stops. At the same time, Gutier said, there are public relations campaigns.

One is a “know your limits” program, a postcard designed to tell people both how many drinks it takes to reach the legal limit of 0.08 blood-alcohol content as well as the penalties for getting caught. Gutier said there is an increased emphasis on convincing people who want to go out and perhaps have one too many to have a designated driver.

The result, he said, can be seen in the fact that drunk-driving arrests are decreasing, going from about 32,000 in 2012 to 30,000 the following year and 29,000 last year, all with no decrease in law enforcement patrols.

Insurance companies also get some of the credit for Arizona’s No. 1 ranking on being strict on drunk drivers. WalletHub said someone convicted of DUI faces an average increase in premiums of 37 percent, about the 15th highest in the nation.

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