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Arizona’s War on Extreme DUI and High BAC: Causes, Prevention, Consequences, DUI Laws & Defense

New CDC statistics reveal 38 million Americans binge drink 4 times per month; six people die from alcohol poisoning every day.

How to Make Your Arizona Experience Sensational with Alcohol Safety

Arizona, the Valley of the Sun, sees an average 37 million people visit each year. Some visitors are here to enjoy the spectacular Grand Canyon, Sonora Desert, Hoover Dam, Monument Valley, majestic Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon, historic Jerome, Desert Botanical Gardens, other National Parks and Recreational Areas. Some are here on business, attending one of Arizona’s many colleges, universities, or trade schools.  Some are participating or here to watch live professional sporting events, popular concerts or other shows.  Others just simply want to get away from the ice, snow and freezing temperatures, to bask in the warm sun of in the fall and winter.

Alcohol surrounds many of these popular sports events, activities, and social gatherings. It is common to hear heavily sponsored beer and other liquor commercials, for retailers to advertise specials, for generous party hosts to offer, and people consuming alcoholic beverages.  Social drinking is the American way of life for many.

Whether your stay is short, long, or permanent, the chances are great that you will either find yourself behind the wheel of a vehicle, or a passenger in one. Many are unaware that Arizona has some of the toughest DUI laws and penalties in the USA. This is particularly true for higher Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) DUI convictions. Others, especially younger drinkers are unaware of the health risks of drinking in excess.

Unfortunately, in the midst of the celebrations, excitement, and fun, some lose track of how much alcohol they are actually drinking. This can result in deadly consequences.

Drinking in excesses hazards extend beyond the health of the person drinking, especially if that person gets behind the wheel of a vehicle. Other drivers and passengers should keep in mind that other motorists on the roadways may be driving impaired.

Article Overview – Featured Topics    

To raise awareness about the hazards of drinking in excess, and its consequences, we will discuss the following alcohol safety issues:

  • Legality verses Safety;
  • Arizona’s High BAC Trends;
  • Extreme and Super Extreme DUI Laws and Penalties;
  • Binge Drinking Defined;
  • Causes of Binge Drinking;
  • Non-DUI Related Crimes Involving Excessive Drinking;
  • Injuries Caused by Excessive Drinking;
  • New National Centers for Disease Control Repot: Alcohol Poisoning;
  • Emergency actions if you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning;
  • 7 DUI Safety Tips;
  • 10 Alcohol Consumption Safety Tips;
  • DUI arrest, rights, and criminal defense

Legal v. Safe

It’s important to make a distinction between safety and legality as it pertains to driving under the influence of alcohol.   In sum, though it may be legal to drive under the influence of alcohol that does not mean it is equally safe for all drivers.

If you are a juror on jury duty in an Arizona DUI case, you will likely hear this as part of the jury instructions. That is, that in Arizona, it is legal for a driver over the age of 21 to be under the influence of alcohol.

However, it is not legal to drive under the influence of alcohol if the motorist’s BAC is 0.08 percent or more, within two hours of driving or being in actual physical control of the vehicle under; and/or if their driving abilities are “impaired to the slightest degree” by alcohol or drugs.

In sum this means is that a person can be found guilty of an impaired driving charge under A.R.S. 28-1381, even if their BAC is below the legal limit, or by drugs, if they are found to be “impaired to the slightest degree.”

There is much controversy surrounding whether or not it is safe to drive under the influence of any alcohol at all. All DUI laws aside, the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns that it is still not safe to drink and drive under the influence of any amount of alcohol.

According to the CDC, BAC levels below 0.08 percent can still slow reaction time, judgment and coordination, all of which are necessary for driving safety. Further, they warn, the higher the BAC, the greater the driving impairment.

Arizona’s War on Extreme DUI  

We’ve discussed the dangers of binge drinking in prior articles. But the new statistics for 2014 have been released for 2015, by the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (AGOHS). They reveal an alarming trend in excessive drinking and Super Extreme DUI in the State. For the 7th consecutive year, the average BAC of driver’s stopped and arrested has been 0.152 percent, in violation of Extreme DUI laws A.R.S. 28-1382.

Extreme and Super Extreme DUI Laws

Binge drinking is the number one cause of high Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) in drivers arrested for of Extreme and Super Extreme DUI charges in Arizona. According to the CDC, drivers who engage in binge drinking are 14 times more likely to be arrested for impaired driving, than a motorist who has not engaged in binge drinking.

Arizona also has what are known as Extreme and Super Extreme DUI laws. They exist to provide increased and more severe penalties for those guilty of driving with higher BAC levels.

Extreme DUI laws are violated when a motorist is driving with a BAC level of 0.150 to 0.199, under A.R.S. 28-12382 A (1).

The Super Extreme laws are violated when a motorist is found guilty of driving with a BAC of 0.20 or higher A.R.S. 28-12382 A (2).

The primary cause of high BAC levels is Binge Drinking, which results leads to Extreme DUI and Super Extreme DUI arrests.

In Arizona, a breath test refusal will result in a one year loss of driver’s licenses, whether a person is driving impaired or not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Also, there is a risk that if the driver refuses, the police may obtain a warrant to administer a DUI blood test in the alternative.

If a driver in Arizona consents to a breath or blood test, or police obtain a search warrant to perform a blood test, and the test returns a result of a BAC between 0.15 and 0.20, that driver may face charges of extreme DUI. While any charge for driving under the influence has far-reaching consequences, an extreme DUI or super can be especially severe. The general rule in penalties for impaired driving is, the higher the BAC, the more harsh the penalties will be.

Extreme DUI Penalties in Arizona

A driver convicted of Extreme DUI for the first time will face:

  • A fines, fees, and assessments totaling $2,500.00;
  • Jail terms of 30 consecutive days;
  • Driver’s license suspension/revocation of at least 90 days
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device 1 year;
  • Completion of an approved alcohol or drug education program, a DUI course and counseling for alcohol or substance abuse;
  • Probation, and/or community service or restitution

However, it’s also very likely that consuming eight alcohol beverages in one sitting will lead to a BAC at or exceeding 0.20, and result in charges of super extreme DUI.

Super Extreme DUI Penalties in Arizona

A driver convicted of extreme DUI for the first time will face:

  • A fines, fees, and assessments totaling $2,750.00;
  • Jail terms of 45 consecutive days;
  • Driver’s license suspension of at least 90 days;
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device 18 months;
  • Completion of an approved alcohol or drug education program, a DUI course and counseling for alcohol or substance abuse;
  • Probation, and/or community service or restitution

Repeat DUI violations call for even more severe punishments. A third DUI of any kind within 84 months with any BAC is considered an Aggravated DUI which is a felony in Arizona. All felony charges expose a person to prison terms and other felony penalties.

What is Binge Drinking?

The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of alcohol consumption that drives a person’s BAC to 0.08 percent and higher.

The amount consumed generally translates to 4 or more drinks within 2 hours for women, and 5 or more alcohol beverages for men during a 2 hour time span. The faster a person consumes the alcoholic beverages the more quickly and higher the resulting BAC level.  The NIAAA defines a standard drink of spirits as an equivalent of a 12-oz beer, 5-oz glass of wine, or 1.5-oz shot of distilled liquor.

Causes of Binge Drinking

While people of all ages engage in binge drinking, one of the most simplistic but resourceful  article on this topic was from the BACCHUS Network. BACCHUS stands for “Boosting Alcohol Consciousness Concerning the Health of University Students”, who for over 30 years have supported and promoted student leadership in health and safety education.  They list the following causes:

  • Lack of alcohol education and experience;
  • Misperception that binge drinking or drinking in excess is normal;
  • Drinking too much to fast
  • Participating in “drinking games” with peers or friends;
  • Doing “Shots”;
  • Pre-party drinking, also referred to as “front-loading” alcohol before going out

While these causes may have been identified in college students they can apply at any age.  Some additional causes noted by addiction psychologists and clinicians, and in other research studies, include low self-esteem, social anxiety, general anxiety, major or acute depression, stress, peer pressures, avoidance of problems, curiosity, rebellion, social euphoria, and alcoholism.

Non-DUI Crimes that Involve Excessive or Binge Drinking

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) reported that alcohol is a factor in our 40 percent of all crimes committed.    Based on statistics from the US Department of Justice, the NCADD reported that excess use of alcohol is a factor in approximately 3 million violent crimes each year.  Violent Crimes reported include assault, aggravated assault, domestic violence, and robbery.   Other crimes associated with excessive drinking are disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace, criminal trespassing, vandalism, and criminal damage to property.

Injury Risk Factors related to Excess or Binge Drinking

According to the National Centers for Disease Control reported that excessive drinking is the leading risk factor in the United States for Injuries and preventable deaths.  Causes of injury and fatalities include alcohol poisoning, burns, drowning, falls, auto crashes, cuts, eye injuries, head injuries, and other blunt trauma.   In many of these cases, persons involved in these incidents may be held criminally responsible for the victim’s injuries or death.

New National Centers for Disease Control Report: Alcohol Poisoning  

On January 9, 2015 the National Centers for Disease Control provided an early release a “Vital Signs: Alcohol Poisoning Deaths — United States, 2010–2012” from weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report.

The New CDC statistics reveal 38 million Americans binge drink 4 times per month; six people die from alcohol poisoning every day.   Alcohol dependence was a contributing factor in only 30 percent of the alcohol poisoning deaths. In a majority of these deaths alcohol dependence was not listed as a contributing factor.  This was consistence with other recent studies which concluded that 9 out of 10 adults who binge drink, were not alcohol dependent.

While binge drinking is defined as consuming four drinks on one occasion for women or five for men, the study found that the average number of drinks consumed per episode was eight.  Drinks served at bars or other special occasions can actually be much larger than this. A person consuming a 24 oz. beer, for example, would be consuming two drinks at once, according to the CDC’s metrics. A person who drinks two of these in one sitting has consumed four drinks and, therefore, is binge drinking according to the report’s standards. Only around 10 percent of those who died of alcohol poisoning were considered dependent on alcohol. Most victims were those who consumed too much alcohol on one occasion.

According to the NIAA, a division of the National Institute of Health, alcohol poisoning occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that parts of the brain controlling basic bodily functions, including breathing, heart rate and temperature control, begin to shut down. When a person consumes an alcoholic beverage, the liver metabolizes the alcohol, eliminating it from the blood stream, at a rate of about one ounce per hour. Alcohol that has not yet been metabolized remains in the bloodstream, which is why people experience intoxication. As alcohol builds up in the system, it can lead to alcohol poisoning.

The amount of alcohol that could lead to poisoning may vary from person to person, and depend on a wide number of factors. These factors include weight, height, how much food the person has consumed and genetics. Sex is also a factor. However, while men are physiologically less susceptible to the effects of alcohol, the CDC study shows that around three quarters of alcohol poisoning deaths occur in men. The highest death rate was for men age 45-54.

It also varies greatly depending on the type of beverage consumed. Drinking 12 ounces of beer in one sitting would not even lead to legal intoxication for many people. Drinking 12 ounces of tequila, however, would be dangerous and, in some cases, deadly.

Research suggests certain impairments which can result given certain BAC levels. But numerous factors that can cause variances in how many drinks will cause an individual to suffer from alcohol poisoning. However, BAC levels of .37%-.40% or higher have been known to cause death.

According to the NIAAA, some symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Confusion, stupor, coma or inability to wake up
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute) or irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths
  • Hypothermia
  • Blue or pale skin color

The number of deaths due to alcohol poisoning reported by the CDC may surprise many, poisoning is far from the leading cause of alcohol-related death. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) nearly four times as many — more than 32,000 nationwide in 2013 — die due to impaired driving accidents. Like alcohol poisoning, binge drinking plays a significant role in driving under the influence.

While effects vary from person to person according to factors like the ones listed above, consuming eight or more drinks in a relatively short period of time is, at the very least, likely to give most people a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of above 0.15. The BAC figure is a reflection of how many parts of a person’s blood are alcohol. A BAC of 0.15 means that a person has 1.5 parts alcohol for every 1,000 parts of blood.

What to do if You Suspect Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning

The NIAAA urges persons experiencing alcohol poisoning symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.   Below are some additional recommendations and warning by the NIAAA:

  • Witnesses, friends or family should recognize signs and symptoms early.  Either seek or call for professional emergency medical attention.
  • Do not wait for the person to show signs of all alcohol poisoning symptoms. A person does not need to have all of the signs if they have consumed a dangerous or potentially fatal dose of alcohol.
  • Unconsciousness can lead to fatality. Never leave an unconscious person unattended without seeking immediate medical attention for calling 911.   There are a number of reasons for this including asphyxiation from vomiting.  If the drinker survives, the  overdose may still result in long term brain damage
  • Do not try to convince a person to drink hot coffee, walk, or take a cold shower. These activities, do not reverse the effects of alcohol overdose, and could actually worsen the patient’s condition.

Qualified medical staff and doctors at the hospital will follow overdose protocol, manage breathing problems, administer fluids for dehydration and low blood sugar, and flush the stomach to help clear the body of toxins.

7 DUI Safety Tips

Below are some DUI safety tips, including those provided by the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Plan for a designate a non-drinking driver in advance;
  • Download a taxi or ride share application to your cell phone before going out;
  • Take advantage of free ride programs available such as “AAA’s Tipsy Tow” Service
  • Don’t let your friends drive impaired;
  • Don’t get in a vehicle with a driver who has been drinking, especially if they have been drinking heavily;
  • Call a trusted friend, family non-drinking member for a ride home;
  • If you’re hosting a party be sure to offer alcohol-free beverages as alternative; and make sure your guests have a sober ride home.

10 Alcohol Consumption Safety Tips

The CDC warns people not to drink alcohol in the following situations:

  • A person is pregnant or plans to become pregnant;
  • If they are taking prescription, or over-the-counter drugs that may be harmful or cause drowsiness when combined with alcohol; If unsure, speak with the doctor who prescribed the drug;
  • If a person is under the age of 21 (in Arizona);
  • If a person is unable to control the amount of alcohol they drink;
  • If a person is a recovering alcoholic;
  • If a person suffers from seizures, black-outs, or other medical condition that may be aggravate their condition.

If you are going to drink, what you should do:

  • The CDC recommends moderate drinking, in the amount of no more than one per day for women, or two per day for men;
  • If you are going to drink more than the moderate amount, limit the speed of consumption to one per hour. Keep in mind, however, that you may still be at risk for DUI in this case;
  • Decide in advance what type of alcohol is safe for you and your limit in advance. Then stick to it;
  • Just say “no” to “shots” of liquor

What to do if You Face DUI or Criminal Charges in Phoenix – East Valley AZ

If you have been arrested for any impaired driving charges, by law you are entitled to defend your charges.  This is the case, no matter how high your BAC, Extreme, or Super Extreme Charges.

During a DUI investigation the police may have administer breath or blood testing.  They will also rely on their own observances as well as road side testing to determine if you were driving impaired.

DUI defenses for high BAC may include challenges to breath, blood or other chemical testing, including administration, processing, storage, and transport. Other challenges may exist for your charges including the reason for the stop, police procedures or instructions, or other constitutional rights violations.

It is important that you retain an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent you and defend your charges.  Your attorney will gather the evidence and conduct an investigation to determine if your rights were violated, examine the validity of any testing results, and gather any favorable evidence available on your behalf. An experienced DUI attorney will work to get the charges dismissed, evidence suppressed, charges or penalties reduced, or other favorable outcome in your case.

James Novak of The Law Office of James Novak is an experienced and highly skilled DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney.

James Novak, a former prosecutor in Maricopa County. He exclusively defends criminal and DUI charges in Phoenix East Valley cities including Mesa, Tempe, Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, and Phoenix-Metro, AZ.  The Law Office of James Novak provides free initial consultation for active charges, and will provide a strong defense if retained.


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