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Phoenix senator seeks to crack down on DUIs

'We're trying to send them a really tough message'

 by Matt Stone
 published on Thursday, January 25, 2007

/issues/news/699405
 

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An Arizona state senator is looking to toughen extreme- DUI penalties with two bills in the state Legislature.

Sen. Jim Waring, R-Phoenix, sponsored the bills currently in the Senate that would create a new extreme- DUI classification and stiffen current punishments.

The first bill would place drivers with a blood alcohol content level of 0.20 percent or higher into a new category, which would call for a mandatory sentence of at least 45 consecutive days in jail and 180 days for second offenses.

The second bill would make all 30 days mandatory for extreme offenders with a BAC between 0.15 and 0.20 percent.

Currently, the 30 days can be reduced to 10 by a judge.

"We're trying to send them a really tough message," Waring said.

In addition, both first-time and second-time offenders in the 0.20 percent or higher range would have to pay fines and equip their vehicles with ignition interlock devices - which prevent the vehicles from being started with alcohol on the driver's breath.

In 2005, Arizona had 492 alcohol-related deaths in traffic accidents, up from 435 in 2004, according to
alcoholalert.com.

Of the deaths in 2005, 37 percent involved people with a BAC of more than 0.08 percent.

While these are just numbers, the individual accounts illustrate the severity of the issue, Waring said.

"These aren't impossible stories," Waring said of the deaths. "I've dealt with a lot of parents who've lost children."

Originally introduced Jan. 8, both bills are nearing completion in the Senate before being handed over to the House.

One ASU student who benefited from lax DUI laws is Sean Delnoce, a business sophomore.

Delnoce was arrested in December 2005 for driving with a 0.15 percent BAC.

His license was suspended for three months and he had to spend 24 hours in jail, Delnoce said.

"I think I got a good deal out of it as far as not getting cited for an extreme DUI," Delnoce said.

Delnoce blew a 0.15 percent twice - the minimum for an extreme DUI - but on the third time only reached 0.14 percent.

He was worried about going to court, but had heard first-time offenders were shown mercy, Delnoce said.

"I heard from people that your first time you get a plea agreement and they pretty much drop everything and you get the minimum," he said.

While the new bill's punishments are tough, it's not shocking, Delnoce said.

"Driving drunk is a pretty punishable offense ... just because of the risk you take every time you get in the car," he said.

But DUIs go beyond just driving drunk, said ASU police Cmdr. James Hardina.

The definition of DUI includes any drug, alcohol or vapor that impairs the driver.

"A lot of people call it drunk driving, [but] you don't have to be drunk to be under the influence," Hardina said. "I've arrested people for DUI who weren't drunk.

"We don't use that term ['drunk driving'], because it's a misconception."

While half the legislation targets extreme offenders, it may be aimed too high, Hardina said.

"I think it's always good to do anything to reduce DUIs," Hardina said. "[But] as far as DUIs go, they're all dangerous, but in reality, the lower BACs are typically the more dangerous."

A driver with a 0.20 BAC or higher knows he or she is drunk and is extra cautious while those with lower BACs don't always think they are, Hardina said.

"Those are the people that speed, cut you off and try to make the yellow light," Hardina said.

Reach the reporter at: matthew.g.stone@asu.edu.



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