DUI Arrests Decline Before the Recline of the Holidays

By José-Ignacio Castañeda

Cars drive across a busy Scottsdale intersection.

The number of DUI arrests in Arizona has eroded steadily since 2012, despite an increase in alcohol-impaired fatalities during recent years.

The total number of DUI arrests decreased by almost 29 percent since 2017, according to data gathered by the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. The data includes figures that range from 2007 to Oct. 25 of this year.

DUI arrests have decreased by almost 39 percent since their high point in 2012. Despite the decreasing DUI-arrest rates, alcohol-impaired fatalities in Arizona have increased from 2016 to 2017.

Defense attorneys and the Phoenix Police Department agree over the need for officers to be well prepared in DUI recognition as well as the severity of DUI-related consequences in Arizona. Ultimately, these professional adversaries share a common ground over reducing the number of impaired drivers on Arizona roads.

While the data does not account for the final months of 2018, overall traffic stops, including DUI-related stops, have decreased by approximately 16 percent since 2017. The data covers all of 2017 but only the first 10 months of 2018.

Alberto Gutier, director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (AZGOHS), hopes that the increased messaging campaigns by the governor’s office and other agencies are a part of the decrease in the numbers.

“My hope is that this is because of messaging, but I also hope that people are realizing the consequences of impaired driving,” said Gutier.

While the messaging may explain a part of the decrease, the holidays may play into the decrease of arrests in 2018. Since the data has not been collected for the final holiday months of 2018, there may be an increase in the arrests as the data continues to be collected

DUI arrests and DUI enforcement spike on holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Nevertheless, while the number of DUI arrests may be decreasing, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in Arizona increased by almost 16 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

When asked about this differing data, Gutier cited a difference of data gathering between the AZGOHS and the NHTSA.

“Their database, which is compiled by NHTSA, has a lot of assumptions,” said Gutier. “For example, there may be a person who is impaired in the backseat of the car while the driver is sober. If there is a crash and the person in the backseat dies, then that is classified as an alcohol-impaired fatality.”

The Matthew Lopez Law Firm in Tempe specializes in DUI defense cases. One of its defense attorneys, Tyler Steele, did not notice any changes in the amount of DUI cases that the firm receives and he acknowledges the role of ridesharing apps in the rate of Arizona DUIs.

 “DUIs in Arizona are always going to be present, and in this day and age there’s really no excuse to get a DUI, especially with the advent of Uber and Lyft,” said Steele.

In 2015, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) partnered with Uber to conduct a study that found that drunk driving cases for people under 30 dropped by almost 7 percent in areas where ridesharing services are prevalent.

Despite attempts to contact a representative from MADD Arizona, they were unable to be reached for comment.

In Arizona, a police officer can arrest you even if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is less than 0.08. Since it is a zero-tolerance state, you can be arrested as long as they believe you’re impaired.

“We continue to train our officers to detect the behaviors displayed by impaired drivers,” said Sergeant Mercedes Fortune of the Phoenix Police Department in an email. “This can be accomplished through education and enforcement.”

Steele and Gutier share the feeling that DUI consequences can take a large toll on people’s lives.

“Arizona is obviously a no-tolerance state when it comes to DUIs and it’s probably a good thing, said Steele. “We don’t want people out on the road driving impaired, but the consequences of DUIs can be extremely life-altering.”

The consequences of DUIs in Arizona vary according to what type of DUI is issued. The standard, extreme and super extreme DUIs are enforced through a class 1 misdemeanor.

The consequences of the misdemeanor can vary from jail time, to fines that range from $1,500 to $4,650.

“I hope people are getting the message of the consequences of DUI arrests on their life, their job and their family,” said Gutier.

There are four categories when classifying DUIs in Arizona. The first is a standard DUI, which uses the 0.08 BAC rule.

The next level is an extreme DUI, which entails harsher consequences if you test above a 0.15 BAC. Extreme DUIs in Arizona have decreased by almost 24 percent since 2017.

A super extreme DUI adds higher consequences alongside a higher BAC of 0.2.

The rate of DUI arrests for underage drivers has decreased by 39 percent since last year, even though the legal limit for underage drivers is 0.0 percent.

Finally, an aggravated DUI can be given due to a variety of reasons. These reasons can range from driving with a suspended license to driving impaired with someone who is under 15 years old. Aggravated DUIs have decreased by approximately 25 percent as of last year.

“If you’re putting people’s lives in serious danger you should be punished,” said Steele.


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