Dec 26, 2011 10:48 AM
PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona residents convicted of drunken driving for the first time will get a slightly gentler sentence beginning Sunday.
A new state law will require first-time offenders to keep an ignition-interlock device on their vehicle for six months instead of the current yearlong requirement.
The Arizona Republic reports (http://bit.ly/sRHDqw) that the state is still among the toughest in the nation on drunken driving. It's just one of 15 that require first-time offenders to have interlock devices, which stop vehicles from turning on if alcohol is detected on the driver's breath.
Other states require first-time offenders to use the interlock devices for various time periods.
Oklahoma requires it for at least a month, while Oregon, New Jersey, and Missouri have six-month requirements. Other states like New Mexico and Pennsylvania require first-time offenders to have the devices for a year.
In Arizona, lawmakers passed legislation requiring repeat offenders to install ignition-interlock devices in 2001. In 2007, they began requiring first-time offenders to have the devices.
To comply with the requirement, drivers must pay a provider to install the device and pay a monthly maintenance fee.
The devices cost about $120 to install and about $80 a month to maintain, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Sen. Linda Gray of Glendale has led the effort to toughen Arizona's DUI laws for more than a decade and proposed changing the interlock device requirement to six months.
Gray has said that she believes six months is long enough to teach first-time offenders a lesson, particularly such an expensive one.
Kelley Dupps, program specialist with Mothers Against Drunk Driving's Arizona chapter, said that her group opposes the latest change to Arizona's DUI laws and that they'll be watching to see if DUI fatalities increase as a result.
Arizona's DUI fatalities have decreased since requiring first-time offenders to install interlocks, dropping to 210 in 2010 from 399 in 2006.
Dupps said that if her group sees a spike in deaths or in repeat offenders next year, they will ask the Legislature to consider returning to the tougher penalty.
"We want to create the safest roads possible," she said. "One death from DUI is one too many."