Arizona to Ease DUI Sentencing in the New Year

Arizona to Ease DUI Sentencing in the New YearBeginning January 1, 2012, Arizona motorists convicted of drunk driving will receive a slightly less severe sentence, as long as the conviction is a first offense, The Associated Press reports.

According to the news source, the new law requires first-time DUI offenders to have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicles for only six months, rather than the previous sentence that mandated the devices be installed for a minimum of one year.

Although the new law shows a gentler sentencing, Arizona still remains one of the toughest states on drunk driving. It is one of 15 states that require first-time offenders to have interlock devices installed, which keep a motorist from operating a vehicle if the driver has been drinking, according to the media outlet.

Across the country, different states have different laws regarding first-time charges of DUI. Oklahoma law says the device must be installed for at least one month, while Oregon, New Jersey and Missouri mandate it must be used for six months. New Mexico and Pennsylvania, which have led anti-drunk driving campaigns similar to Arizona's, still require the devices to be used for one year.

Repeat offenders in Arizona were first required to use the devices in 2001, and by 2007, state legislators had voted to extend the punishment to first-time offenders. To comply with the law, drivers are responsible for the expenses associated with installing and maintaining the device. It costs about $120 to install the machines, and about $80 per month for maintenance, according to the AP.

The effort to curb drunk driving in Arizona is led by Senator Linda Gray, who has been striving for harsher penalties for 13 years. Gray proposed the recent change earlier in 2011, stating that six months was long enough to teach someone a lesson about drunk driving – especially when such high costs are associated with the devices.

Since using the system, DUI fatalities have dropped from 399 in 2006 to 210 in 2010. However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has conducted several studies that suggest the devices only lower rates of recidivism when they are attached to the vehicle.

According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, alcohol-related crashes accounted for 5.17 percent of all crashes in the state in 2010, and about 30 percent of all fatal crashes.