DUI may cost extra if accident is involved
By Howard Fischer
CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
PHOENIX - A money-saving suggestion by someone from the
Department of Public Safety could end up taking money out of the pockets of
drunk drivers. The DPS is preparing to start charging impaired motorists at
least some of the cost of investigating the accidents they cause. That could
add up to $1,000 onto the various fines and surcharges drunken drivers
already have to pay - an expense lawmakers just voted to increase. The
agency is working to figure out exactly how the DPS will compute its costs
and how it will bill errant motorists, said its lobbyist, Jack Lane. He said
the goal is to have the system in place this coming year.
The change in policy is not specifically meant to deter
drinking and driving, though he said it might have that effect. Instead, he
noted, it came to the attention of managers as they asked agency employees
for ways to cut costs as the DPS's part of the governor's Efficiency Review
process. Ideas suggested ranged from doing oil changes on patrol cars less
frequently to sharing office space with other government agencies. The DPS
also intends to ask the Legislature to assess some sort of surcharge on
vehicle registration or license fees to offset expenses for ammunition,
vehicle communication equipment and officer pay raises.
"We got a lot of this stuff from the worker bees," Lane
said. And one of those ideas was based on a little-known law that allows
public agencies to send bills to intoxicated motorists for the costs of
investigating their accidents. Lane said it's hard to say how much the DPS
might collect through the law.
In the Phoenix area, where most of the accidents
investigated by the DPS occur, there have been more than 17,000 traffic
accidents so far. Of that total, 698 were what officers called
"alcohol-related." So that could mean close to $700,000 in additional
revenues for the DPS. In most cases, though, that won't cover the full cost
of the work being done, Lane said. He said that includes not just the time
of the officer taking the report but also other officers brought to the
scene to control traffic, experts who analyze crashes and even the
laboratory costs of testing the motorists' blood.
The move by the DPS comes within weeks of enactment of a
new state law that will more than double the financial penalties imposed on
intoxicated motorists. That new law, part of the prison funding package
approved earlier this month, adds a $500 surcharge to fines imposed on those
convicted the first time of drunken driving.
Current law sets the penalty at $250 plus an 80 percent
surcharge that brings the total penalty up to $450. For "extreme DUI" -
those who have a blood-alcohol content greater than 0.15 - the surcharge for
first-time offenders will be $1,000 on top of the $250 base fine. That
surcharge increases to $1,250 for a second offense within five years and
$1,500 for a third.