Rim Country drivers got arrested for drunk driving during the holidays at nearly twice the state rate, according to preliminary figures on a statewide DUI crackdown.
Officers arrested 13 drivers locally for driving under the influence during the holiday season and 2,800 statewide -- an increase of roughly 10 percent from last year.
The local arrests among the Payson area's 15,250 residents works out to 1 arrest for every 1,171 residents. By contrast, the DUI arrest rate for the state's 6.1 million residents amounted to 1 arrest for each 2,202 residents.
Payson Police Chief Don Engler said numbers still are preliminary, but records indicate the department made five DUI arrests from Dec. 16 to New Year's Day.
Payson police made not a single DUI arrest on New Year's Eve, Engler added.
A spokesperson with the Gila County Sheriff's Office in Payson said only one arrest was made for DUI during the same period.
However, the Department of Public Safety made seven DUI arrests in the Payson area during the holidays, including two extreme DUIs and two in connection with drug charges, said Sgt. John Whetten with DPS.
The figures reflect both a worrisome trend and the results of a law enforcement crackdown on drunk driving, which accounts for 30 to 40 percent of the roughly 42,000 traffic deaths annually. In Arizona, drunk drivers caused an estimated 45 percent of the nearly 1,300 traffic deaths in 2006, according to estimates by the National Highway Safety Administration.
Last year, out of 2,662 arrests statewide during the same time, 742 were extreme, and the average BAC was .146, nearly double the legal limit.
This year, tougher penalties for extreme DUI took effect, which means those arrested over the holidays face loss of their license, jail time and thousands of dollars in fines and fees.
Of the five arrests made in Payson, only one was extreme, and one for a BAC of .08 or higher.
Arizona currently is the sixth toughest state in the nation for drunk driving -- but has a drunk driving fatality rate nearly 50 percent above the national average.
Police made more than 182 DUI related arrests statewide last Friday, Dec. 28, the Arizona Department of Public Safety said.
A new "super extreme" DUI law, that went into effect the middle of September, helps authorities keep the worst offenders off Arizona roads -- specifically anyone with a blood alcohol level above .20.
Conviction on a first offense on a "super extreme" charge carries a range of 45 to 180 days in jail and a possible fine of approximately $3,250, including jail costs.
Additionally, it requires a 90-day suspension of driving privileges and a substance abuse evaluation, which could lead to court ordered drug or alcohol counseling before reinstatement of a license.
A second conviction on the same charge triggers a mandatory 180 days in jail and a one-year revocation of driving privileges.
Both first- and second-offense convictions for super extreme DUI carry a possible five-year probationary period and installation of an ignition interlock device, as well.