Starting next Saturday at 12:01 a.m. just in time for Labor Day weekend Arizonans who drink and drive will find their margin of error significantly reduced. That's when the new law goes into effect, lowering the DUI limit from .10 to .08 blood alcohol concentration.
Arizona becomes the 26th state to enact the measure which is federally mandated, Alberto Gutier, director of the Governor's Office for Highway Safety, said .
"While (Governor Jane Hull) and I don't like federal threats, she asked me to push it through the legislature. We've been introducing it for years without success, but this time it passed overwhelmingly," Gutier said.
As a result, the state will receive $1.8 million in highway safety funds.
But more important, Gutier said, the new law adds extra urgency to the need for Arizona motorists who drink and drive to take personal responsibility for their actions.
"Each person needs to know his or her own level," he said.
The body begins reacting to alcohol at about .05.
"Your perception is worse, but you're still allowed to drive," he said. "For me, a light drinker, I begin to feel it at two beers even though I'm not legally intoxicated until I've had four or five. Others can drink a couple of six packs and have a blood alcohol content of .18 or .20 and still be walking and talking fairly normally. We even see people at .35 who are walking and talking."
Implementation of the new law was delayed until Labor Day weekend to allow time to educate the public.
"We want people to take responsibility for their drinking," Gutier said.
A major enforcement effort will back up the education campaign over Labor Day weekend when the new law kicks in. Gutier said some 1200 police officers statewide will be on the streets looking for drivers who are over the .08 limit.
While the Payson Police Department will not have additional officers on duty, a special emphasis will be placed on DUI infractions over the weekend. "We normally try to get our officers who are on duty to concentrate as much as possible on DUI," Payson Police Department Lt. Don Engler said.
"We are working with the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, and will be reporting all our statistics to them," he said.
Drivers arrested under the new law must surrender their license or permit on the spot, and can lose their license for 12 months if they refuse to take a blood alcohol concentration test. Additional fines and fees also apply.
The new law is not to be confused with the extreme DUI limit change that took effect April 4.
"They are two different laws, two different dates, two different changes," Engler said.
The earlier law, which imposes much stiffer penalties than the one that takes effect Sept. 1, lowered the blood alcohol level for extreme DUI from .18 to .15. Under this law, a first offense conviction requires a minimum sentence of 30 days in jail, plus other fines and fees.