As we approach the traditional celebrations to ring in New Year's Day, it is very important that drivers and their passengers and loved ones remember just how serious and costly the crime of driving under the influence is. In 2008, as a result of accidents involving drunken drivers, 329 people lost their lives in Arizona.
In the San Marcos Justice Court geographical area (the court in which I preside), from July 1 to Nov. 30, 2009, the state has filed 252 citations for DUIs, which is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Depending on the alcohol concentration in the defendant's blood, those people convicted of DUI are sentenced to between one and 30 days of actual jail time served for a first offense and pay between $1,670 and $5,066 in mandatory fines and fees. When hearing me pronounce their sentence, many defendants tell me that they wish they had just chosen to incur the relatively inexpensive cost of a cab ride home.
The majority of defendants I see in my court are first-time offenders. They do not have a history of drunken driving. The overwhelming majority will learn from their mistakes and not repeat the offense. We all should realize if we are going to drink more than one or possibly two drinks over an extended period of time, we should not drive afterward.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. As such, alcohol has varying effects on different people. Not only are drivers presumed to be aware of the DUI laws, they are responsible for understanding the effects of alcohol on their own bodies. The law recognizes that simply consuming alcohol and driving is not illegal. What is illegal, however, is when someone consumes alcohol and drives a motor vehicle and is impaired to the slightest degree within two hours of consuming alcohol.
The question every driver needs to ask themselves prior to consuming alcohol is, "Do I have a plan for getting back home that does not involve me driving afterward?" If any driver thinking about drinking does not have a plan to get back home, then that driver should either not drink, have someone else drive (and that includes either a "designated driver" or taking a taxi), or not leave the drinking place until the driver is no longer "impaired to the slightest degree."
Think about this: There is no residence in the metropolitan area that the cost of the cab ride home will be more than the fines you would pay for a DUI conviction. (Some cab companies even offer to take the driver back to their car the next day for free.) For instance, let's say you are in downtown Phoenix and you have to get to Chandler. The cab fare may be as high as $45. That is still significantly lower than the $1,647 you would have to pay for a DUI conviction.
The $1,647 fine does not include jail and jail fees, the dramatic increase in your insurance rates, having your driver's license suspended by the state, the cost of an ignition interlock device for 12 months and mandatory alcohol education classes.
Thinking about your safety as well as everyone else's safety in our community, I make this sincere request: if you choose to drink alcohol this holiday season, or anytime in the future and you need transportation afterward, please make sure you either have a designated driver and/or a plan for getting home that does not involve you personally operating a motor vehicle.
On behalf of myself and all of the staff at the San Marcos Justice Court, we wish all of you a very happy, healthy and safe holiday season.
Keith Frankel is justice of the peace for the San Marcos Justice Precinct including Chandler and Sun Lakes.