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Underage Drinking & DUI Safety Guide for Deadliest Driving Day of Year

♦ Little-known facts revealed, and why they matter.♦

“Underage Drinkers at Highest Risk of Fatal Accidents, Arrests – New Studies Find Links between Youth Alcohol Abuse, Learning Disabilities and Long-Term Brain Impairments.”

Over the last decade the National Safety Council (NSC), and The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) have reported Independence day and the New Year Holiday as being the deadliest driving days of the year.

These conclusions were based on the number of impaired driving crashes, and alcohol related fatalities.

Last year in Arizona, the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (AGOHS) reported a sharp increase in the number of DUI arrests over the July 4th holiday last year from the preceding year.

Particularly during the summer months and around the holidays, it is easy for drinkers to lose track of how much they are drinking.

This is particularly true for teenagers, adolescents, and underage drinkers.

Consequences of youth drinking have been largely understood.

We are now learning about new research which suggests links between adolescent alcohol abuse and interruptions during the brain developmental process.

This intrusion on the brain’s development is said to be responsible for causing some learning disabilities, and long term brain dysfunctions.

We will discuss this research in more detail, as well as the following topics as we focus on Underage Age Drinking Safety, Prevention, and Criminal Defense:

  • Underage DUI and drug arrest statistics from AZ Governor’s Office of Highway Safety;
  • Underage DUI laws, penalties and consequences;
  • Consequences of youth drinking from the National Centers for Disease Control;
  • Youth Drinking Prevention Tips from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration;
  • Safety tips from the Arizona Department of Highway Safety;
  • The importance of criminal defense for charges.

Increase in Underage DUI and Drugs Arrests

On June 18, 2015, the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (AGOHS) announced that our State was named as the harshest state in the Country in penalizing DUI convictions, based on a study conducted by an independent finance company.

Penalties include jail sentencing and extended use of ignition interlock devices on vehicles as well as other criminal and civil punishments. This is the case even for first time DUI charges.

In an effort to keep impaired or drunk drivers off the road, Arizona drivers can expect increased presence, DUI Checkpoints, and patrols over the Independence Day holiday weekend this year.

According to AGOHS, the number of DUI arrests statewide increased from 421 in 2013 to 534 in 2014 on the Fourth of July holiday.

The state agency attributed the increase in arrests to an increase in the number of officers on the road. Unstated was the fact that Fourth of July occurred on a Friday.

A typical weekend night will have more arrests that a typical weekday night. This year, the Fourth similarly falls on a Saturday.

In addition to an overall increase in the number of arrests, last year was also notable for a significant increase in two statistics: The number of underage DUIs and the number of drug-related DUIs. The former statistic went up 27 percent, and the latter went up a staggering 74 percent.

No Tolerance for Underage DUI

In Arizona, a person 21 or older who is not operating a commercial vehicle may face DUI charges if accused of being in actual physical control of a vehicle with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 or higher, or if he or she is under the influence of an intoxicating substance, drug or vapor to even the slightest degree.

A person younger than 21, the legal age at which a person may purchase and consume alcohol,  may face DUI charges if there is ANY alcohol in his or her blood or breath. A 20-year-old could be arrested and convicted if his or her BAC was 0.01, regardless of whether he or she was under the influence of the alcohol to the point that his or her faculties were impaired.

The law, Arizona Revised Statutes § 4-244, lowers the BAC at which a person is considered legally impaired for a person under 21, but it does not lower the punishment. An underage person convicted for the first time of a DUI with a BAC less than 0.10 may face penalties including:

  • A $250 or more fine,
  • Assessment of $500 to be deposited in the prison construction and operations fund,
  • Assessment of $500 to be deposited in the public safety equipment fund,
  • Court costs,
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device for at least one year,
  • Community restitution,
  • Alcohol or drug screening,
  • Alcohol or drug education or treatment program,
  • A driver’s license suspension for 90 days, and/or
  • A criminal record.

A BAC of 0.10 could result in a charge of extreme DUI, with heightened penalties. For a BAC at or above 0.15, the charges could be for super extreme DUI.

Subsequent offenses also carry increasing penalties. A third or subsequent drunk driving charge, for example, is a felony.

No Tolerance for Drugs in the System While Driving

Under Arizona Revised Statutes § 28-1381, a person may face criminal charges if accused of being in actual physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance or if there is any controlled substance or any metabolite of a controlled substance in their body.

This is a strict approach that means that any lingering metabolites could lead to a person being charged with DUI.

Controlled substances can take days or even weeks after use to disappear from blood or urine tests (DUI urine tests are rare, but blood tests are routinely given).

They can last long after the effects on a person’s faculties have worn off.

For example, a person who took a prescription painkiller – prescription drugs are controlled substances – in the morning may have stopped feeling its effects hours later.

However, the metabolite may still be in the system, and that person may be arrested when a blood test shows positive results.

This is particularly important for the many people who utilize Arizona’s medical marijuana law. Marijuana metabolites stay in the blood much longer than most other controlled substances.

Regular users commonly show positive drug test results for 10 days or more after last use.

It does not matter that the person is legally using the substance. He or she will still face DUI charges.

It is not clear why there was such a spike in drug-related DUIs last year. However, Arizona law enforcement has made strides in their Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program.

An officer trained as a DRE will look for signs that a person is under the influence of a controlled substance.

He or she can testify in court as evidence of intoxication or as evidence for reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

A person convicted of a drug-related DUI will face the same penalties listed above for a person charged with a DUI with a BAC under 0.10.

New Studies Reveal Link between Adolescent Drinking and Long Term Brain Damage

The National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that Alcohol is the number one drug of choice among teens in the USA, and considers alcohol a major health problem among persons under age 21.

Binge drinking is dangerous for adults but even more dangerous for teens. This is because generally their bodily functions and brains are still in a developmental stage.

New studies reveal the alcohol, especially binge drinking can delay maturity, and have life-long adverse impacts on parts of the brain that control learning, memory and cognitive functions.

Researchers say that the brain continues to refine, mature, and develop until a person reaches their mid-twenties.

So the brain abnormalities are the result of alcohol intruding on cells in parts of the brain that have not completed their development.

More independent studies are revealing that teenage binge drinkers are more prone to acquire psychiatric disorders including alcoholism later in life.

Underage non-experienced drinkers or do have not built up a tolerance to alcohol are more likely to consume more alcohol than adults during one session.

As non-experienced drinkers they are often not capable of recognizing when they’ve had enough, and need to stop drinking.

Other Consequences of Underage Drinking

We’ve discussed the criminal consequences of underage drinking, the auto accident risks.

New studies are now being reported that reveal a connection between alcohol use, and binge drinking on the brain, and cognitive functions.

According to the CDC youth drinking can also lead to or cause other adverse consequences including but not limited to the following:

  • Alcohol poisoning in the case of binge drinking which can result in coma or death;
  • Acute, or long term medical conditions;
  • Increased risks of suicide;
  • Propensity to commit other crimes such as physical assault, sexual assault, or other violent crimes including homicide;
  • Suffer or cause other intentional injuries such as drowning, falling, burns;
  • Use or abuse of other illegal drugs;
  • Suffering from other acute and chronic illnesses due to alcohol;
  • Unplanned pregnancies or acquisition of sexually transmitted diseases;
  • Behavioral, educational, social problems at school and domestically;
  • Anger, mood changes, confusion, irritability;

According to the CDC, the risks of experiencing these consequences increased when the youth engaged in binge drinking.

For men, binge drinking is defined as having 5 or more drinks within 2 hours.  For women it is defined as have 4 alcohol beverages within 2 hours.

How Parents Can Help Prevent Underage Drinking – Safety and Prevention Tips

Below are some tips complied from a variety of resources including Substance Abuse and Mental  Health Services Administration  (SAMHSA) to help parents address underage alcohol use, and safety:

  • Discuss medical hazards, underage drinking and DUI laws; penalties and consequences;
  • Be a good role model- If you are going to drink, drink responsibly;
  • Welcome discussions and be approachable, and make it easy for them to talk;
  • Help your teens to find ways of having fun without alcohol;
  • Encourage your teens to be involved in family life, and chores, including taking care of siblings;
  • Don’t allow your teens to attend parties where alcohol is being served;
  • Give them independence. But set, and enforce clear rules with consequences for violating them;
  • Know where your teens are, who they are with, and whether or not alcohol will be served there; Make sure alcohol is not available to them in their home and do not offer it to them;
  • Explain the hazards of riding as a passenger in a vehicle with someone who has been drinking, and provide them with alternative options for a sober ride home.

 A Message from the Arizona Department of Public Safety to all Drivers

On July 2, 2015 the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) issued a Press Release to announce their increased presence particularly on highways and high collision areas.

Their efforts will focus on highway safety to avoid fatalities, DUI enforcement, and seeking out distracted drivers of those who will be traveling on the roads this weekend.

The Arizona DPS offered these safety tips for those who will be traveling on the roadways:

  • “Expect the Unexpected”;
  • Keep emergency supplies in your vehicle in the event you find a highway is closed off while   in route. The emergency pack should include extra drinking water, snack foods, fully charged cell phones and other emergency supplies;
  • Choose someone to be a sober Designated Driver in advance;
  • Call 911 to report dangerous driving or behavior to help avoid crashes;
  • If your vehicle breaks down call 911 for assistance;
  • If you are under age 21 and you plan to drink, plan ahead, and drink responsibly.

The Importance of Criminal Defense for Alcohol Related Charges Tempe AZ

If you are the parent of an underage drinker or driver, and you have never received the call in the middle of the night or early morning hours notifying you that they have been arrested, or worse involved in a DUI accident, you are one of the fortunate ones.

If you have received the call, then you know how traumatic it can be for parents and those arrested.

A criminal conviction can turn a person’s world upside down, jeopardizing the future and freedom.

It is particularly disruptive to underage drinkers who have a need to drive to get to school, work, to sport activities, scholastic activities or other extracurricular activities.

A conviction will adversely impact their eligibility to drive for an extended period. It may also prevent them from qualifying for schools, scholarships, student loans, or employment.

It can also result in loss of existing scholarships, job, driver’s license, active enrollment, or job if they had one at the time of the arrest or conviction.

This is why it is critical to retain a highly skilled and experienced DUI or minor consumption defense attorney to protect their rights and defend their charges.

Without an effective legal advocate a conviction will be swift and severe.

It is crucial that they retain a qualified attorney to protect their interests, and challenge any constitutional rights violations, or weak evidence in their case.

Officers may make mistakes in the cleaning and calibration of the devices, or may make errors in storing or transporting the evidence.

Even if your son or daughter has a DUI test showing alcohol in your system and they are under age or controlled substances if you are of any age, and were arrested in Maricopa County, there is no reason to give up hope.

A flawless process can be critical to prosecutors’ cases, particularly when the results involve a low BAC.

Mistakes in cleaning could easily lead to test result showing a low BAC, such as one used in the prosecution of a person younger than 21.

Likewise, the testimony of DREs can be effectively challenged by a lawyer. Any errors in their judgment can lead to charged being reduced or dismissed.

Generally when evidence is suppressed, it cannot be admitted in court. So suppression of material evidence or unlawful searches can lead to dismissal, or acquittal of charges.

James Novak is a former prosecutor, and dedicated exclusively to providing DUI and criminal defense. He is a highly skilled and effective and represents people of all ages charged with alcohol related crimes.

James Novak believes in second chances, making sure a person’s rights are protected, and that they get the strongest most effective defense available for their charges.

If a loved one or someone you know has been arrested for alcohol related crimes or other criminal offenses, contact James Novak, at The Law Office of James E. Novak today for a free consultation.

James Novak services clients who have received charges in Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale, Chandler, or Gilbert, AZ.

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