Driving? Arizona's auto insurance and DUI sentencing more stringent

By AINSLEE S. WITTIG/Arizona Range News

A new Arizona law now requires mandatory license and vehicle registration suspension if a person is charged with driving without insurance and increases the fine for the offense.

The law, which went into effect Friday, takes away the judge's discretion to allow offenders to purchase insurance and have that charge dismissed, said Judge Judy Bethel, of Justice Court No. 4 in Willcox.

The previous fine for driving without proof of insurance was $250 for the first offense. If the offender purchased insurance as directed by the court, the charge would be dropped, as would the fine, she said.

"The law always gave (the offender) a chance to get the insurance and bring back proof, but now it gives us no choice. We have to suspend (the offender's) license for three months, and collect a $500 fine. You can't win once this starts," Bethel said.

She is concerned about those who "must make a choice between feeding their family or buying insurance," she said.

"I'm going to have to take their driver's privilege away. This means they can't drive to work. And if they do, and they are caught driving on a suspended license, the fine is $575, and an additional three months suspension (or the same period as the original suspension) will be added on to the end of the first suspension time," she said.

A minimum of $15,000 bodily injury liability for one person or $30,000 for two or more people, and $10,000 property damage liability is required by Arizona law within 30 days of vehicle registration.

The new law will increase the fine for the offense and can require vehicle impoundment.

The fine increased by 100 percent, from $250 to $500 for a first offense. Bethel said that amount does not include the additional 80 percent added on to the original fine collected by the state. For example, $400 would be added on to the $500 fine, making the total to be paid by the offender $900.

In addition, driving without a license is now on the list of reasons a peace officer may impound a vehicle. And, impoundment of the vehicle is required if it is involved in an accident if the driver is not in compliance with mandatory insurance laws and the driver's license is suspended or revoked or the driver cannot produce evidence of a driver's license being issued by Arizona or another jurisdiction.

For a second offense of driving without insurance within 36 months of the first offense, the new law removes a judge's discretion to suspend the driver's license and registration. The judge will be required to suspend the driver's license and registration for six months, and the mandatory fine will increases from $500 to $750.

For the third and subsequent violations of driving without insurance within 36 months, the minimum fine is increased from $750 to $1,000.

Bethel said she sees an "estimate of 30-40 people for driving without proof of insurance each month."

Also this year, the state legislature passed a law pertaining to fines for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The law creates the Department of Public Safety Equipment and Bonus Fund, funded by an assessment added onto the fines for driving under the influence (DUI). This law also went into effect Friday.

Fines for DUI range from $250 to $750, depending on past convictions of the same offense or level of intoxication. In addition, the state collects another 80 percent of the original fine, and an assessment ranging from $500 to $1,500 (depending on type of DUI) is charged, which goes toward a fund for prison construction.

There is also a mandatory jail sentence and for second offenses, revocation of driving privileges for a year, with an ignition interlock device installed after driving privileges are restored. Adding community service to the sentence is at the discretion of the judge.

The new law adds another assessment to DUI offenses, again ranging from $500 to $1,500 depending on type of DUI charge. This assessment will fund the Department of Public Safety Equipment and Bonus Fund, which helps to pay for flak jackets, stun guns, and bonuses for DPS employees, the law states.

Bethel said, "We (the courts) are here to uphold the laws, but we are not here to be funding agencies. Yet, 80 percent of the money collected goes to the state, and that doesn't count the assessments (that go to state agencies)."

"I don't disagree that DPS needs equipment or raises," she said, adding that she does not think the courts are the cure-all for financial difficulties. "Get on the phone and call your legislators."

Copyright �  2006 Darby Law Office

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