The Law: Alcohol and Drug Use

Alcohol is unquestionably the most abused controlled substance in the United States. Alcohol is involved in about a third of Arizona’s fatal traffic collisions. The denial and lack of acknowledgment by drivers often leads to catastrophes on the road. Awareness of what signs are commonplace in the problem drinker will help reveal that person’s problem before it manifests behind the wheel. Awareness of the penalties associated with drinking and driving related laws may also deter one from mixing alcohol with the often-difficult task of driving. Many lives can easily be ruined by the problem of drinking and driving.

Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Alcohol is absorbed directly into the blood stream. After the alcohol is absorbed, it affects and damages many bodily organs, including the heart, stomach, and liver. It can cause enlargement of the heart (leading to congestive heart failure), cancer of the digestive system, and possibly hepatitis and/or cirrhosis of the liver. Drinking too much at once can lead to an alcoholic coma, which in turn can lead to death. The higher learning centers of the brain are the first to be affected, followed by muscular control and then vital functions such as digestion, breathing, heartbeat and circulation. Alcohol also affects your vision. The delicate, small muscles that control your eyes are not able to focus and move correctly. The more relaxed the muscles, the fuzzier the picture becomes (this is when double vision occurs). Other results are:

  • A tendency to stare straight ahead
  • A narrowing of the field of vision
  • A reduction in depth perception
  • Reduced adaptability to darkness
  • Increased sensitivity to glare
  • A longer time to readjust after glare

Alcohol is a depressant that slows the activities of the brain, affecting judgment, reflexes, and coordination. If the brain receives images from the eyes that are blurry and unclear while its functions slow down, you have a great recipe for disaster. Some other effects alcohol has on the brain include:

  • Reduced awareness of danger
  • Overconfidence (which can result in reckless driving)
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • A reduction in balance or equilibrium

Arizona’s 2009 Impaired Driving Numbers (from the Arizona Motor Vehicle Crash Facts)

  • In 2009, there were an estimated 5,854 alcohol-related crashes in Arizona which killed 261 people and injured 4,142.
  • Of all the motor vehicle crashes that occurred in 2009, only 5.48% were alcohol-related, but 32.38% of all traffic deaths were alcohol-related.
  • Alcohol-related crashes in Arizona cost the public an estimated $484.6 million dollars in 2009.

Open Container Law

ARS § 4-251 prohibits the consumption or possession of open containers of spirituous liquor in motor vehicles. The law states that it is illegal for anyone to consume or be in possession of an open container of spirituous liquor while operating or while a passenger within the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle that is located on any public highway or right-of-way in the state. The passenger compartment includes any unlocked compartments such as the glove/utility compartment and any containers that you bring into the vehicle if they are within easy reach, but it does not include the trunk or, if the vehicle doesn’t have one, the area behind the back seat (or the front seat, if it is a two-seater). A violation of this law is a Class 2 misdemeanor. The law does not apply to a passenger in any bus, limousine, taxi, or to a passenger in the living quarters of a motorhome.

Blood Alcohol Level / AC (Alcohol Concentration) .08

Alcohol and driving simply do not mix!

When you drive with a level of alcohol in your blood system of .08, you would be legally DUI, or driving under the influence. For commercial licenses, the AC level is .04. If you were to consume one alcoholic drink per hour, you would most likely not be in danger of getting near .08. Conversely, increased consumption of alcohol over a short period of time would most likely lead to an illegal AC. For example, a 150-pound male who drinks four beers in a one-hour period will have an AC near .077, but a 130-pound female who drinks those same four beers in an hour will have an AC near .098. This exemplifies the need for individuals of varying weights and tolerances to know their own limitations. However, there is no safe way to ever drive while under the influence. Even one alcoholic drink can make you an unsafe driver on the road.

One alcoholic drink is the equivalent of a four-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer, or a shot of hard liquor.

The body is able to get rid of one ounce of alcohol per hour, or the equivalent of one alcoholic drink per hour. If three drinks were consumed consecutively at the beginning of an hour, the equivalent of two drinks would remain in the bloodstream at the end of that hour, as the body would only have dissipated one drink. (The liver can only process a limited amount of alcohol at any given time.)

ARS § 28-1381 states that it is illegal to drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle under any of the following circumstances:

  1. While under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, a vapor releasing substance containing a toxic substance or any combination of liquor, drugs or vapor releasing substances if the person is impaired to the slightest degree.
  2. If the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more within two hours of driving or being in actual physical control of the vehicle and the alcohol concentration results from alcohol consumed either before or while driving or being in actual physical control of the vehicle.
  3. While there is any drug defined in section 13-3401 or its metabolite in the person’s body. (Examples of drugs defined in that section will be given in Chapter 9.)
  4. If the vehicle is a commercial motor vehicle that requires a person to obtain a commercial driver license as defined in section 28-3001 and the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or more.
Stage A.C. Level Feeling Explanation of Feeling
1 .01 – .04 No overt effects Slight feeling of muscle relaxation, slight mood elevation.
2 .05 – .07 “Happy” Feeling of relaxation, warmth. Slight increase in reaction time, decrease in fine muscle coordination.
3 .08 – .15 “Excited” Balance, speech, vision and hearing slightly impaired. Feelings of euphoria, increase in reaction time and increased loss of motor coordination.
4 .16 – .20 “Confused” Major impairment of mental and physical control. Slurred speech, blurred vision, lack of motor skills.
5 .21 – .30 “Stupor” Loss of motor control – person needs assistance moving around. Minimal control of mind and body.
6 .31 – .40 “Close to Coma” Unconsciousness – little to no reflexes. Subnormal temperature, lack of circulation. Threshold of a coma.
7 .41 + “High Probability of DEATH” Deep coma. Probability of death from respiratory paralysis.

Zero Tolerance Law (Underage DUI)

ARS § 4-244.33 states that it is illegal for a person under the age of 21 years to operate or be in physical control of a motor vehicle while there is any spirituous liquor in the person’s body. Underage DUI is considered a misdemeanor criminal offense.

It is also illegal to knowingly purchase for or provide alcohol to anyone under 21. Your driver license will be suspended as follows:

  • First conviction – Up to 30 days.
  • Second or subsequent conviction – Up to 6 months.

The only exceptions are:

  • Liquor licensees or employees working within the limits of their license (see Dram Shop below);
  • Parents or guardians who give alcohol to their own children in a private home; or
  • Those providing alcohol for a religious ceremony.

Presumption Law

A section of ARS § 28-1381 provides for the presumption of impairment. The law reads:

  • If there was at that time 0.05 or less alcohol concentration in the defendant’s blood, breath or other bodily substance, it may be presumed that the defendant was not under the influence of intoxicating liquor.
  • If there was at that time in excess of 0.05 but less than 0.08 alcohol concentration in the defendant’s blood, breath or other bodily substance, that fact shall not give rise to a presumption that the defendant was or was not under the influence of intoxicating liquor, but that fact may be considered with other competent evidence in determining the guilt or innocence of the defendant.
  • If there was at that time 0.08 or more alcohol concentration in the defendant’s blood, breath or other bodily substance, it may be presumed that the defendant was under the influence of intoxicating liquor.

Note: You can still be charged and convicted if there is evidence of any type of drug or alcohol that can impair a person’s normal faculties. This can include prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.

Impaired Driver

Your driving ability can be impaired and dramatically affected even when your AC is below .08. Alcohol can affect individuals in many different ways, with minimal amounts doing substantial damage. Alcohol alters behavior and causes a driver to become mentally and physically impaired.

Implied Consent

Under the Implied Consent Law (ARS § 28-1321), when you drive or are in actual physical control of a vehicle within the State of Arizona and are arrested for DUI, you have given your consent to take a chemical test to see if you are under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, a vapor releasing substance containing a toxic substance or any combination of liquor, drugs or vapor releasing substances. These tests are not to be confused with Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs are often administered on the side of the road – see examples of FST), but are actual chemical tests admissible as evidence in DUI cases. Refusal will result in a one-year license suspension. A second or subsequent refusal within 84 months (7 years) will result in a two-year license suspension. The Implied Consent Law can only be enforced when you refuse a test after you have been arrested for driving under the influence. However, if you refuse a test and are then arrested, a second refusal after the arrest would invoke the Implied Consent Law and your license would be suspended.

After serving the first 90 days of your suspension, you may apply for a special ignition interlock restricted driver license so you can start driving again, but only if it is your first refusal. You would need to have an ignition interlock device installed and functioning in your vehicle, and you must pay all costs associated with it (see next topic for more on these devices).

Because Driving Under the Influence is a criminal activity, a police officer may petition to a court and request a search warrant to test a person’s alcohol concentration or drug content. This type of search warrant may be requested by the officer over the phone when dealing with a driver under the influence. Time is of the essence because the evidence will not stay long in a person’s body. If a search warrant is used in this case, a person’s license to drive may still be suspended under the Implied Consent Law.

Administrative Per Se Law (Admin Per Se)

When you drive in Arizona, you consent to take a chemical test if you are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. Under ARS § 28-1321 and 28-1385, an officer may confiscate your driver’s license if you refuse to take or fail to complete a test or have an Alcohol Content (AC) exceeding .08. This effectively allows for a suspension of the driving privilege without any court action. The police officer will take away your driver’s license and serve you with an order of suspension or revocation.

1 in 2000

It is remarkable to imagine, but it is often said that there are approximately 2000 drivers on the road at any given time that are DUI for everyone arrested. These numbers exemplify the difficulty those in law enforcement have in trying to curtail the problem of the drinking driver. There are simply too many on the road to catch all who abuse alcohol behind the wheel.

Dram Shop Law

The Dram Shop Law is based on the theory that all those involved with the drinking driver are somehow responsible for the problem. ARS § 4-311 holds licensees (bar owners, liquor store owners, etc.) liable for property damage and personal injuries or liable to a person who may bring an action for wrongful death if a court or jury finds the following:

Festivities that celebrate life with a glass of champagne may lead to catastrophes.

  1. The licensee sold spirituous liquor either to a purchaser who was obviously intoxicated, or to a purchaser under the legal drinking age without requesting identification containing proof of age or with knowledge that the person was under the legal drinking age, and
  2. The purchaser consumed the spirituous liquor sold by the licensee, and
  3. The consumption of spirituous liquor was a proximate cause of the injury, death or property damage.

Road Awareness

If only one DUI driver each night emerges from a local bar, restaurant, or establishment serving alcohol and takes to the road, imagine the number of intoxicated drivers on our roads. All drivers should be aware that more than one intoxicated person leaves these establishments each night and flood the highways. Late at night on the weekends are consequently peak times for drinking drivers on the road.

Effects of Carbonated Drinks

Carbonated alcoholic beverages such as champagne hit the blood system and brain much more quickly than non-carbonated drinks. The drinker rarely knows the effects of the drink until it is too late. Festivities that celebrate life with a glass of champagne often lead to catastrophes because of alcohol abuse. Alcohol and driving simply do not mix!!!

Fines and Penalties

If you break the law, you must pay the price.

A simple fact of life: If you break the law, you must pay the price. However, if you drink and drive, you may also pay with your life. The punishment for a DUI will vary with the level of intoxication in addition to other variables, but listed below are some penalties to expect:

First Offense

  • A jail sentence of not less than ten consecutive days.
  • A fine of not less than $250.
  • An additional assessment of $500 for the prison construction fund.
  • An additional assessment of $500 for the state general fund.
  • Your driving privileges will be suspended for 90 days.
  • You will be required to undergo alcohol screening, education, and treatment.
  • You may also be ordered to perform community service.

Second Offense (within 84 months)

  • A jail sentence of not less than 90 days, with 30 days to be served consecutively.
  • A fine of not less than $500.
  • An additional assessment of $1,250 for the prison construction fund.
  • An additional assessment of $1,250 for the state general fund.
  • Your driving privileges will be revoked for a period of one year.
  • You will be required to undergo alcohol screening, education, and treatment.
  • When your driving privileges are reinstated, you will need to install a certified ignition interlock device on any vehicle you may operate.
  • You will also be ordered to perform at least 30 hours of community service.

Ignition Interlock Device

An ignition interlock device is an in-car alcohol breath screening device that prevents a vehicle from starting if it detects an alcohol concentration over a pre-set limit. The device is located inside the vehicle, near the driver’s seat, and is connected to the engine’s ignition system. Before starting the vehicle, you must blow into the device. If your alcohol concentration (AC) is above the pre-set limit, the vehicle will not start. Once the vehicle is started, the interlock device requires you to provide breath samples at random pre-set times while the engine is running. If a sample is not provided, or if the AC exceeds the limit, the device will issue a warning, record the event and activate specific alarm systems (e.g., lights flashing, horn honking, etc.), until the ignition is turned off.

You may obtain a special ignition interlock restricted driver license if your Class D or Class G driver license is suspended or revoked and one of the following applies:

  • Upon receipt of an order of restriction from the court for the conviction of DUI, extreme DUI or underage DUI.
  • After serving the first 90 days of a suspension or revocation for a first refusal or conviction of aggravated or extreme DUI with a minor in the vehicle.

You will need to provide proof of future financial responsibility (by filing an SR-22) and proof of installation of a certified ignition interlock device in each vehicle you will operate. In addition, you must have it inspected at least once every 90 days. You will also have to undergo and complete an alcohol screening, education and treatment if you are required to do so. You will be responsible for the cost of installation and maintenance of the device.

Extreme DUI

ARS § 28-1382 states that it is illegal for you to operate or be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle in Arizona if you have an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more within two hours of driving or being in physical control of a motor vehicle. Penalties include:

First Offense

  • A jail sentence of not less than 30 consecutive days, with no possibility for probation or a suspended sentence. If you had an AC of 0.20 or more, you must serve a jail sentence of not less than 45 consecutive days, again with no possibility for probation or a suspended sentence.
  • A fine of not less than $250. If you had an AC of 0.20 or more, a fine of not less than $500.
  • An additional DUI assessment of $250.
  • An additional assessment of $1,000 for the prison construction fund.
  • An additional assessment of $1,000 for the state general fund.
  • You will be required to undergo alcohol screening, education, and treatment. If you had an AC of less than 0.20, the court may suspend all but 10 days of your jail sentence if you complete an alcohol screening, education, or treatment program at the time of sentencing.
  • You will be ordered to install a certified ignition interlock device on any vehicle you may operate.
  • You may also be ordered to perform community service.

Second Offense (within 84 months)

  • A jail sentence of not less than 120 days, with 60 days to be served consecutively, and you will not be eligible for probation or a suspended sentence. If you had an AC of 0.20 or more, you must serve a jail sentence of not less than 180 days, with 90 days to be served consecutively, with no possibility for probation or a suspended sentence.
  • A fine of not less than $500. If you had an AC of 0.20 or more, a fine of not less than $1,000.
  • An additional DUI assessment of $250.
  • An additional assessment of $1,250 for the prison construction fund.
  • An additional assessment of $1,250 for the state general fund.
  • Your driving privileges will be revoked for a period of at least one year.
  • You will be required to undergo alcohol screening, education, and treatment. If you had an AC of less than 0.20, the court may suspend all but 60 days of your jail sentence if you complete an alcohol screening, education, or treatment program at the time of sentencing.
  • You will be ordered to install a certified ignition interlock device on any vehicle you may operate.
  • You will also be ordered to perform at least 30 hours of community service.

Aggravated DUI

ARS § 28-1383 states that you are guilty of aggravated DUI if you do any of the following:

  • Drive or be in actual physical control of the vehicle while under the influence at the same time your driver license or privilege to drive is canceled, suspended, revoked or refused, or while a restriction is placed on your driver license.
  • Within a period of eighty-four months commit a third or subsequent DUI violation.
  • Commit a DUI violation while a person under 15 years of age is in the vehicle.

Aggravated DUI is considered a felony and carries the following penalties:

  • A prison sentence, which varies depending on the type of violation:
    • Driving under the influence with a canceled, suspended, revoked, refused or restricted license — a minimum of four months.
    • Third DUI violation – a minimum of four months
    • Fourth or subsequent DUI violation – a minimum of eight months.
    • Driving with a person under 15 – same as for a typical DUI or extreme DUI depending on which one was committed.
  • A fine of no less than $750.
  • An additional DUI assessment of $250.
  • An additional assessment of $1,500 for the prison construction fund.
  • Your driving privileges will be revoked for three years.
  • You will be required to undergo alcohol screening, education, and treatment.
  • You will be ordered to install a certified ignition interlock device in any vehicle you may operate if you are convicted of the following:
    • Driving under the influence with a canceled, suspended, revoked, refused or restricted drivers license.
    • Third or subsequent DUI violation.
    • Driving with a person under 15 while committing an extreme DUI violation.
  • You may also be ordered to perform community service.

More on Alcohol Concentration (AC)

The current DUI law that set the AC limit at .08 was signed into law and took effect in 2001. The Labor Day weekend that followed resulted in 925 arrests for DUI statewide, which was up from 560 arrests only a year earlier. So how do you know when to stop drinking so you can avoid the same fate? Different drinks contain different amounts of alcohol, so you need to know what you consume. In general, a four-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer, and a shot of hard liquor (approximately 1 to 1 and a half ounce) all contain about the same amount of alcohol.

Females generally reach higher AC levels more quickly than males because they tend to have a higher percentage of body fat and thus a lower percentage of body water.

If you drink, you should NEVER drive afterwards! ARS § 28-1381 states that it is illegal to drive or be in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, a vapor releasing substance containing a toxic substance, or any combination of liquor, drugs, or vapor releasing substance if you are impaired to the slightest degree.

Youth and Alcohol

Alcohol affects young people differently, particularly during adolescence. Significant changes in the body occur during this period as they make the transition to adulthood. When alcohol is introduced, key development processes may be interrupted. When combined with their inexperience with driving, the results can be disastrous. It also does not help that alcohol is readily available to minors, according to two national surveys.

It is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 years to drive after consuming alcohol.

The CDC’s 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which asked high school students across the U.S. about their behaviors, showed that 41.8% drank alcohol in the past month and 9.7% drove after drinking. In Arizona alone, 44.5% consumed alcohol in the past month and 11% drove afterward. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found similar results based on their 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Data from this survey showed that 6.3% of young adults ages 16 to 17 and 16.6% of those ages 18 to 20 drove under the influence of alcohol.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among young adults ages 15 to 20, according to NHTSA. A lack of driving experience is a contributing factor. The rate of fatal crashes among drivers between 15 and 20 years old is more than twice that of drivers 21 and older when alcohol is involved. In 2008, 5,864 drivers between 15 and 20 were involved in fatal crashes.

As mentioned earlier, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 years to drive after consuming alcohol. According to NHTSA, such laws, which are now in effect across the nation, have reduced traffic fatalities among drivers 18 to 20 years old by 13% and saved about 27,052 lives between 1975 and 2008. In 2008, minimum drinking laws saved an estimated 714 lives.

Statistics from the two surveys conducted by both CDC and SAMHSA show that alcohol is still too easily accessible to minors. Advocates and government officials believe that more effective enforcement of minimum purchasing laws will help to reduce these numbers even further. Support from family is particularly crucial in curtailing this problem, as adolescents are less likely to drink when they have strong family relationships.

Additional Laws Regarding Underage Drinking

To back the zero tolerance law, the State makes it illegal to give minors under 21 alcohol if you are over 21 years of age. ARS § 4-241 states that if you are of legal drinking age, you may not give alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 years if he or she is not a member of your immediate family or does not permanently reside in the same household. That means you may not give alcohol to your children’s friends (or your underage buddies) even if their parents gave their approval. It also applies to businesses. If you are convicted of serving alcohol to a minor, you face up to 6 months in jail and a fine of as much as $2,500.

Trends in Drinking and Driving

According to the CDC, there were 159 million incidents of alcohol-impaired driving in 2002.

Could crashes caused by driving under the influence be on the rise? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, believes that it is the case, or at least that more people are drinking and driving. Since 1993, the CDC has used its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to gather data on behavior trends via telephone of 100,000 individuals in the U.S. who were 18 years of age or older. Among the trends researchers asked about were alcohol-impaired driving. Its report, “Alcohol-Impaired Driving Among U.S. Adults, 1993-2002,” published in the May 2005 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, revealed an increase of adults driving under the influence.

The CDC defined “alcohol-impaired driving” as positive responses to the question “During the past month, how many times have you driven when you had perhaps too much to drink?” In 1993, there were approximately 123 million incidents of alcohol-impaired driving. That number declined to 116 million in 1997. However, the number of alcohol-impaired driving cases then increased markedly to nearly 159 million in 1999 and held steady in 2002 at 159 million. CDC researchers also noted that more than 80% of those surveyed reported having engaged in binge drinking, where someone consumes five or more drinks in one occasion.

Between the 1980s and early 1990s, alcohol-related traffic fatalities declined. Since the early 1990s until the late 2000s, the numbers remained essentially the same and then declined, possibly due to the recession. Lawmakers have mulled different approaches to curtail this problem, from stricter laws to incorporating alcohol treatment in sentences for DUI offenders. NHTSA is now emphasizing three strategies it believes will help the numbers to continue dropping: high visibility enforcement, support for prosecutors and courts in DUI cases, and alcohol screening and brief intervention.

Example of an FST

The field sobriety test, or FST, involves a field determination of a driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle. The test given may include the following:

  1. Balance Test– A driver may be asked to raise one leg off the ground and touch his or her nose with the index finger. A drinking driver’s equilibrium is affected, and he or she would have trouble with this simple balance skill.

An officer may ask the driver to walk along a line on the roadway, moving his or her feet heel to toe.

  1. Walking a Straight Line– An officer may ask the driver to walk along a line on the roadway, moving his or her feet heel to toe and repeating. Again, balance is observed.
  2. Counting Backward– Speech is dramatically affected when alcohol is consumed. Counting backward will reveal slurred speech patterns, as well as one’s ability to concentrate on a simple task.
  3. Touching Finger Tips– Basic coordination is influenced adversely by alcohol. When asked to touch fingertip to fingertip, the drinking driver often has extreme difficulty.
  4. Following Directions– The officer may ask the driver questions to determine his or her sobriety level. Following basic directions is very difficult when alcohol is introduced to the brain.
  5. Nystagmus Test– The nystagmus test relies on the effect that alcohol consumption has on the ocular nerves. Consumption of alcohol slowly weakens the eye muscles to the point where the eye can no longer follow in “smooth pursuit” of the finger or object being moved horizontally by the peace officer. An expert in this field (the peace officer) will verify that the fluttering or twitching of the ocular muscle is a direct result of the alcohol.