Report Ranks which States are Toughest on Drunk Drivers

Monday, June 22nd, 2015, a financial services website, has attempted to rank states based on how tough and lenient their laws are on DUI offenders.

Wallethub cited a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistic that 31 percent of motor vehicle fatalities in 2012 involved alcohol impairment. This number, however, has dropped significantly since 1980 when states began taking a serious stance on drunk driving. The reason for the decline, according to Wallethub, is the tough laws and penalties that states have enacted to combat and punish drunk driving.

Using a point system, states were ranked depending on if and how that state imposed a certain DUI laws.

For example, states were given 10 points if the law required at least 10 days in jail for a first offense, eight points for eight to nine days in jail, six points for six to seven days in jail, four points for four to five days in jail, two points for two to three days in jail, and zero points for zero to one day in jail. 

Other assessments included whether the state imposed additional penalties if a drunk driver had a high blood alcohol content, the range in fines and fees, the range in "administrative" license suspension, and whether an ignition interlock device was required following a DUI conviction.

So how did the states fare?

Arizona, according to Wallethub, is the toughest state on drunk driving.

Amongst some of its penalties include the following:  Arizona requires a minimum of 10 days in jail for a first time DUI and a minimum of 90 days in jail for a second DUI. A DUI automatically becomes a felony on the third offense. A DUI conviction will lead to a three month administrative license suspension. An ignition interlock device is mandatory for 12 months upon a first conviction.

South Dakota, on the other hand, came in dead last when it came to laws punishing drunk drivers.

Some of South Dakota’s DUI penalties (…or lack thereof) include some of the following:  The state does not have a minimum jail term for either a first time DUI or a second time DUI. A DUI automatically becomes a felony on the third offense. There is no administrative license suspension nor is a person required to install an ignition interlock device is required upon a DUI conviction.

And how did sunny California do?

California came in 31st with some of its laws including the following: California requires a minimum of two days in jail for a first time DUI conviction and a minimum of 10 days for a second time DUI conviction. A DUI becomes a felony on the fourth offense. A person convicted of a DUI in California faces a four month administrative license suspension.

Although Wallethub indicated that California does not require an ignition interlock device upon a first time DUI conviction, some counties in California, Los Angeles included, do in fact require an ignition interlock device.

Wallethub’s report can be found here:


Can Raising Taxes on Alcohol Reduce Drunk Driving Accidents?

Monday, April 13th, 2015

A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that raising the taxes on alcohol could reduce the number of drunk driving related collisions.

Researchers from the University of Florida studied the results of a 2009 tax increase on alcohol in the state of Illinois. In that year, the state increased its excise tax on beer by 4.6 cents a gallon, on wine by 66 cents a gallon and on distilled spirits by $4.05 a gallon, or by 1 cent more that consumers pay per glass of beer or wine and nearly 5 cents more for a serving of spirits.

According to the researchers, alcohol-related traffic deaths in Illinois fell 26 percent. The decrease was higher among young people, at 37 percent. Fatal crashes involving alcohol-impaired and extremely drunk drivers fell 22 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

"Similar alcohol tax increases implemented across the country could prevent thousands of deaths from car crashes each year," Alexander Wagenaar, a professor in the Department of Health Outcomes and Policy at the University of Florida, said in a university news release. "If policymakers are looking to address dangerous drivers on our roads and reduce the number of fatalities, they should reverse the trend of allowing inflation to erode alcohol taxes.”

Wagenaar’s comments reflect the study’s observation that alcohol has become less expensive in recent years as the result of a decrease in alcohol tax rates. The study notes that having 10 or more drinks a day would have costs the average person approximately half of their disposable income in 1950. Modernly, however, having 10 or more drinks a day would cost the average person about three percent of their disposable income.

"This goes against the conventional wisdom of many economists, who assert that heavy drinkers are less responsive to tax changes, and has powerful implications for how we can keep our communities safer," said Wagenaar.

As with many studies, you have to ask yourself, “Is this a true cause and effect situation?”

U.S. News reported that David Ozgo, vice president for economic and strategic analysis for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, had the same question. According to Ozgo, fatal collisions involving alcohol were decreasing before the tax increase.

 “In fact, the largest annual decline over the last eight years occurred in 2008, the year before the tax rate changed,” he said. “Importantly, Illinois alcohol-related traffic fatalities declined faster than the national average before the tax increase and this has not been the case since the tax increase.”

Ozgo’s observation makes us wonder whether it really is the tax that is causing the decrease in DUI related fatalities in the state.

Think about the averages alcohol abuser. Is the rather trivial increase in alcohol taxes mentioned above really going to stop someone from purchasing the alcohol? Is it going to keep them from driving after drinking?


California Lawmaker wants Ignition Interlock Devices for All DUI Offenders

Monday, January 5th, 2015

For those of you who are unfamiliar with ignition interlock devices (IID), it is a device which is installed on a vehicle’s dashboard. The device works like a breathalyzer that must be blown into and provided a breath sample. If the sample is registered as being below the preset blood alcohol content level, the vehicle will be allowed to start. However, if the sample is above the preset limit, the device prevents the engine from being started.

The IID requires further breath samples at random times after the vehicle has been started. The purpose is to prevent someone else from blowing into the IID just to start the vehicle and ensure that the driver is sober throughout the drive. If a sample is not provided or if the sample contains alcohol above the preset limit, the device warns the driver, and initiates an alarm (flashing lights and honking horn) until the vehicle is turned off or the IID is provided a clean breath sample.

Currently, IID are required for first-time drunk driving offenders in four California counties participating in a pilot program. Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Tulare counties require installation of an IID for five months in all vehicles that a driver operates following a California DUI conviction.

Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, has proposed a bill that would expand the IID requirement for first-time offenders throughout California.

“California needs to do a better job of reducing deaths and injuries from drunk drivers,” said a statement from Hill. “Ignition interlocks save lives and can be an effective counter measure to reduce DUI recidivism.”

The issue is personal for Hill whose best friend was killed by a drunk driver thirty years ago.

“It’s something that’s personal to me. I know the pain his family and we felt… I hate to see other families go through that.”

In addition to the other thousands of dollars associated with a California DUI conviction, people required to install the IID will have to pay between $50 and $100 per month to have the device installed. This can prove to be quite a financial burden on some. This, however, is the least of my concerns with IIDs.

Not only can they be inaccurate for a number of reasons, just as breathalyzers can be, they can also be dangerous.

Talk about distracted driving. Having to blow into a device installed on the dashboard whilst driving sounds more dangerous than talking on a phone while driving. And how dangerous is it to drive with the lights flashing and horn honking because a sample is not provided in time?  That would most certainly prove to be a distraction for the driver of the vehicle with the IID as well as a distraction for other motorists on the road. 

That’s a big risk for something that does not even tackle the underlying cause of DUI-related fatalities, which is what Hill claims the new law will prevent. The majority of DUI-related fatalities do not come from first-time offenders who register a blood alcohol content of between 0.08 percent and 0.15 percent. Rather, the vast majority of DUIs that cause death or injury come from repeat offenders who register well over 0.20 percent blood alcohol content; drivers with serious alcohol problems, not social drinkers.

I’m not against getting drunk drivers off of the road, but Hill’s legislation misses the mark.


$100 for Reporting a Drunk Driver

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

It goes without saying that there are more drunk drivers on the road during the holiday season. Some counties like those in Southern California are increasing patrols and DUI checkpoints. Palm Beach County, however, is offering a $100 reward for reporting a drunk driver as part of its holiday DUI crackdown.

“It gives law enforcement additional eyes on the road,” said the spokeswoman for the Safety Council of the Palm Beaches, Donna Bryan. “Everyone should have an interest in getting impaired drivers off the roads because it could be someone who hits your loved one.”

Palm Beach’s Mobile Eyes program has been operating since 2001 and has reportedly led to hundreds of DUI arrests. But recently, the program was promoted as a way to earn a little extra holiday cash this season.

To most this seems like a win-win situation. Drunk drivers are taken off the road and the person responsible for the arrest earns themselves $100 for the holidays.

So what’s the problem with rewards for reporting drunk drivers?

I’m sure Palm Beach County officials report exactly how many actual drunk drivers are arrested as a result of the program. But I highly doubt they report how many innocent people were stopped and investigated for a possible DUI as a result of the program.

Although well-intentioned, the program encourages people to call 911 on drivers who may or may not be driving drunk simply because there is the possibility of receiving $100. And, what’s more, these people have absolutely no personal knowledge that the driver is actually drunk.

Unfortunately, people are not reporting drunk driving. They’re reporting driving errors, any of which can be interpreted as drunk driving. Everybody makes mistakes while driving. In fact, it might be fair to say that no driving excursion is flawless. This necessarily means that everyone on the road is a target of Mobile Eyes and anyone can be arrested on suspicion of DUI simply because someone else could make $100 for reporting a mistake.

Ok, so someone calls 911 to report a possible drunk driver. Does the tip give law enforcement the right to stop a driver when the officers, themselves, saw nothing to indicate that the driver is driving drunk?

According to the United States Supreme Court, the answer is yes.

In the case of Navarette v. California, the United States Supreme Court held that an anonymous tip gives law enforcement the authority to pull someone over on suspicion of driving under the influence. This is true even though it is impossible to verify the reliability of the tip and the officer has not witnessed any driving that would indicate intoxication.

In his dissent, Justice Scalia voiced the same concerns I expressed above:

“Drunken driving is a serious matter, but so is the loss of our freedom to come and go as we please without police interference. To prevent and detect murder we do not allow searches without probable cause or targeted Terry stops without reasonable suspicion. We should not do so for drunken driving either. After today’s opinion all of us on the road…are at risk of having our freedom of movement curtailed on suspicion of drunkenness, based upon a phone tip, true or false, of a single instance of careless driving.”

After the Navarette decision, not only is it acceptable to assist law enforcement in violating the Constitution, now in Palm Beach County, we’re actually rewarding people for doing so.



Drunk Driving Charges Following Drunk Flying Conviction

Monday, December 8th, 2014

It’s not uncommon for a person to get caught driving under the influence after they’ve already been convicted of a California DUI. What is uncommon, however, is for a person to be caught driving under the influence after they’ve previously been convicted of operating some other type of vehicle while intoxicated like…say…an airplane.

Michael Ferrero, of Petaluma California, was arrested this past November for a California DUI after he drove his pickup truck into a ditch. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the responding California Highway Patrol officer smelled alcohol and discovered an open bottle of vodka.

Sounds like a pretty standard California DUI. That is, until you hear about Ferrero’s previous alcohol-related conviction.

In 2012, California Highway Patrol plane piloted by CHP officer, Gary Wareham, was patrolling for speeding vehicles on the highways north of San Francisco when he spotted a plane flying approximately 50 feet above the road. At the time, the Press Democrat reported that Wareham followed the plane after witnessing it pitching and rolling through the air. Wareham followed the plane to a Petaluma, California airport

Ferrero later failed a breathalyzer. However Ferrero claimed that he had taken a shot of whiskey in the hangar after landing.

Ferrero ultimately pleaded no contest to flying under the influence, but not before saying, “Nobody needs to worry about me ever again.”

That proved to be an untrue statement with Ferrero’s current arrest.

I’ve covered the law for cycling under the influence, boating under the influence, and even riding a horse under the influence. What about the law for flying thousands of feet in the air (or in Ferrero’s case, 50 feet in the air) while intoxicated?

Crewmembers of civil aircrafts, including pilots, are governed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations section 91.17 states that, “no person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft within 8 hours after drinking alcohol, while under the influence of alcohol, while using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety, or while having an alcohol concentration [BAC] of 0.04 or greater in a blood or breath specimen.” Furthermore, the FAA requires random alcohol screenings of pilots and are subject to an implied consent law similar to California’s DUI implied consent law.

California Public Utility Code section 21407 is similar to the federal regulations in defining a FUI charge. California penalties for a first time FUI include a county jail sentence of 30 days to six months, and/or a fine of $250 to $1,000.  Federal penalties, on the other hand, are far more severe and can include up to 15 years in federal prison and up to $250,000.

The prosecution agency has discretion to charge under state or federal law.

The interesting question in Ferrero’s case is whether the prosecutor will treat the current charge as a second-time California DUI since, technically, this is Ferrero’s first time violating California’s Vehicle Code law for driving under the influence.