There have been many studies on the question of which states are the toughest – or the most lenient – on drunk drivers. And while the methodology used is different from one study to the other, Arizona consistently ranks at or near the top in terms of which states have the toughest DUI penalties.

The latest survey to hit the media is from, which published its study this month. We’ve gone through the factors that were used to reach the conclusion that Arizona is the strictest state on DUI, and while we’re not entirely in agreement with all the criteria used, and the respective weight assigned to each, it does appear that Arizona may be – at least on this issue – number 1.

The study took into consideration a host of factors, including:

  • Minimum jail time for first conviction.
  • Minimum jail time for second conviction.
  • Point at which DUI becomes an automatic felony.
  • Length of the “look-back” period, i.e., how long a prior DUI conviction figures into penalties for a new DUI charge.
  • Length of administrative license suspension.
  • Vehicle impound.
  • Ignition interlock requirements.
  • Additional penalties for extreme DUI (high BAC).
  • Mandatory alcohol assessment.
  • Minimum fines.
  • “No refusal” laws.

We could go on, but the bottom line is that the list was fairly comprehensive. The researchers went on to weigh these factors. The result was a point system, and here’s how it worked. Each of the above factors (and others) was assigned a specific number of points. For example, if the minimum jail time was 10 days or more, that state received 10 points. If a second DUI is an automatic felony, it’s 5 points. A look-back period of 7 years gets 1 point, but a look-back period of more than 12 years gets 4 points.

We’re not disputing the gist of the conclusions reached in the study. But we will say that the weighing system is somewhat arbitrary. In addition, the study is based on a quick view of certain statutes. For example, in Arizona, the law says that there is a minimum sentence of 10 consecutive days in jail for a first-time DUI. The study awards the law 10 points. The law goes on to say, and this is ignored in the study, that all but 1 day in jail can be suspended by the judge if you attend a drug education or similar program. If that is taken into account, Arizona gets 0 points on that issue.

In sum, while the study splits hairs on dozens of items, it misses the boat on others. Nevertheless, the results are consistent with what we’ve seen from other research, and that is that the Arizona DUI laws are relatively harsh.

Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(480) 280-8028


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