Proposed DUI law could lower limit for repeat offenders

MESA (AP) ­ A state lawmaker wants to lower the legal blood alcohol limit for those who repeatedly drink and drive, something already done in 23 other states.

State Sen. Jim Waring, R-Phoenix, wants the legal limit lowered to 0.05 from 0.08 for anyone convicted of more than one DUI in five years. He's working closely with the Arizona chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving to craft a bill that would have no tolerance for anyone convicted of an extreme DUI ­ which is someone convicted of driving with a blood alcohol level above 0.15.

Under Waring's bill, anyone with the smallest trace of alcohol ­ meaning anything above 0.00 ­ could be arrested on suspicion of DUI if pulled over within five years of an extreme DUI conviction.

"These are the people that need to be regulated. These are the people that are going to kill somebody," Waring said.

According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, there are nearly 2,700 people serving time in state penitentiaries for DUI-related crimes. Of those, 90 percent have more than one DUI conviction.

However, some say that such a law would be going too far.

"This arbitrary line being drawn is getting out of hand. There is absolutely no reason to think the average person will be impaired at 0.05," said Bill Weigele, president of the Arizona Licensed Beverage Association.

"Those that socially drink and are not a problem are being put upon pretty hard by the continual reduction of the (blood alcohol level)," he said.

But proponents say the bottom line is that the approach works.

Maine became the first state in the late 1980s to enact such a law. Chuck Heeman, the state executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said that in the first year there, Maine saw a drastic drop in crashes related to drunken driving.

"I think laws like this are a way for people who have already been caught to think again before getting behind the wheel," Heeman said.

Meanwhile, DUI repeat offenders already face steeper fines and jail time if caught re-offending.

For a first-time conviction, drivers face fines of $950 for a misdemeanor and $1,700 for an extreme DUI. However, those costs don't include legal fees and other costs related to the legal process. On a second conviction, the fines are raised by $1,250.