DUI may cost extra if accident is involved
By Howard Fischer
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.
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