Arizona DUI Laws

The acronym “DUI” stands for driving under the influence.  The term is broad enough to encompass driving under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription medications.  Arizona has a “zero tolerance” policy for alcohol. You can be arrested for DUI even if you are not over the legal limit for alcohol.

A police officer can stop you if he or she suspects that you are driving while impaired to the slightest degree. The officer will consider your bad driving, failing a field sobriety test, your appearance and demeanor, and other relevant considerations. The DUI statutes allow an officer to arrest you if you appear impaired and are either driving or in control of a vehicle. In other words, if an officer sees a visibly intoxicated driver sitting behind the wheel of a parked car, the officer can arrest the driver for DUI even though the car was not in motion. Sitting behind the wheel with the keys in your possession is being in control of a vehicle under Arizona law.

Let’s look at some examples. Joe and his buddy attended a Cardinals’ game and had several beers during and after the game.  Now, Joe is driving home.  If Joe is driving erratically, weaving, or showing any other signs of impaired driving, the police have a right to stop him and demand that he submit to a blood test.  The test is a BADC, blood alcohol, drug concentration test.  It tests your blood alcohol level and for the metabolites of various drugs known to impair drivers.  A.R.S. § 13-3401 is the Arizona statute that lists those drugs known to impair drivers.  Some of the drugs on the list are prescription drugs.  Sleeping pills, tranquilizers, some cold medications, and some anxiety medications are on the list.

Another example:  Jane has been having anxiety issues, and she borrowed some valium from one of her friends.  Jane took a valium and went to bed.  Thirty minutes later, her teenaged daughter called and asked mom to pick her up from the school dance because she missed her ride.  Jane is having trouble staying awake and concentrating on her driving.  A police officer notices her driving slowly and weaving.  He pulls her over and arrests her for DUI.

As you probably know, the legal limit for alcohol in Arizona is generally 0.08%, but are the legal blood alcohol limits the same for everyone?  The answer is no.  For an adult driving a personal vehicle, the legal limit for alcohol is the 0.08% previously discussed.  For commercial drivers, the legal limit is 0.04%.  For minors under the age of 21, the limit is 0.02%.  If you are under the age for legal drinking, don’t even consider getting behind the wheel after drinking alcohol.  Half a beer can put you over your legal limit.  If there are minors in the car with you, the consequences can be severe.

Can you still be arrested for DUI if your blood alcohol is less than 0.08%?  The answer is Yes!  If the BAC (blood alcohol content) is 0.08% or higher, the law presumes you are impaired.  However, if your BAC is 0.05 – 0.079, you can still be considered to be impaired and arrested for DUI.  Remember, it is up to the officer to determine if you are impaired to even the slightest degree.

If the substance in your blood is a prescription drug for which you have a valid prescription, the issue will be whether you are using the medication as directed.  Some prescription drugs contain warnings that the patient should not drive while using the drug.  Driving despite the warning can get you in trouble.

A driver’s license is a privilege, not a right.  One of the conditions of getting a driver’s license in Arizona and in most other states is your implied consent to a blood test for alcohol or drugs in the event you are stopped for DUI.  What happens if you refuse to consent to the blood test?  Your drivers’ license will be suspended for one year.  That is an automatic suspension with no right to litigation or appeal.  A second refusal to submit to a blood test within the next 84 months will be an automatic 2 year suspension.

What happens if you are arrested for DUI?

If you cannot afford an attorney, a public defender will be appointed to represent you.  Just asking for a public defender won’t get you a lawyer.  There are financial hurdles that must be met to qualify.  If you are not entitled to a public defender, you will need to hire an attorney, and that can cost thousands of dollars.  The first step in the process is an arraignment hearing.  At that hearing, you will be formally charged with DUI and informed of your right to request a jury trial.  At trial, the prosecutor will present evidence of your blood alcohol level or drug levels, whatever the case may be.  If your levels exceed legal limits, you are likely to be convicted.

A standard DUI is a class 1 misdemeanor requiring fines and jail time of up to one year. If you are convicted for a first offense DUI, you will be jailed for not less than 10 consecutive days and fined not less than $1250.00.  If you are uncooperative, the judge can increase the penalty.  First time offenders are also required to attend alcohol/drug screening, therapy and education, have an ignition interlock device installed on their car and perform community service.  The ignition interlock device requires a breathalyzer test before you can start the car.  The penalties are set by statute.  As you can readily see, there is no slap on the wrist for a first-time offense.  Arizona has some of the harshest DUI laws in the nation, and the sentencing guidelines do not provide much wiggle room for your lawyer to bargain on your behalf.  

If you are convicted of a second offense, the penalties are stiffer.  You will spend 90 days in jail, be fined $3000.00 and have your drivers’ license revoked for one year.  You will also be required to complete an alcohol/drug screening, treatment and education program and do community service.  An interlock device must be installed on every vehicle you drive. The penalties described are all for a standard DUI.  Depending on the circumstances, a driver can also be convicted of an aggravated DUI or an extreme DUI, both of which are felonies.

An extreme DUI is driving with a BAC of 0.15% or higher.  An aggravated DUI is classified as:  committing a DUI while driving with a license that is suspended, revoked or cancelled; having a third DUI offense within an 84 month period; or committing DUI while driving with a passenger who is younger than 15 years.  The penalties for extreme and aggravated DUI are onerous.  For a first offense extreme DUI, you will be jailed for not less than 30 consecutive days with no eligibility for probation or suspended sentence.  You will be fined not less than $2500.00.  You will be required to attend an alcohol/drug screening, treatment and education program and ordered to perform community service.  As with the lesser offense, any vehicle you may drive must be equipped with a certified ignition interlock device.  Second and subsequent extreme DUI offenses require a jail term of not less than 120 days, a fine of $3,250.00, and a 12 month license revocation.  The other penalties of alcohol treatment, community service and ignition interlock also apply.

The penalties for aggravated DUI require a prison sentence for up to 2 years, a one year license revocation, alcohol/drug treatment, community service and ignition interlock.  

Avoiding a DUI

Because the penalties are governed by statute, DUIs are difficult cases to defend.  Juries tend to believe the officer’s testimony.  The officer may have dash camera footage of your failed sobriety test or your behavior during the stop.  Be aware!  It doesn’t take that much alcohol to impair a driver.  The average, 160 pound woman will reach the 0.08% limit after 2 drinks.  A small woman may reach the limit with only one.  Three drinks will put a 220 pound man over the limit.  A “drink” for calculation purposes means 12 ounces of 5 percent beer, 5 ounces of 12 percent wine, or 1.5 ounces of 40 percent liquor.  

Of course, there are other consideration like the time elapsed between drinking and driving.  Generally, alcohol metabolizes at a rate of 0.016% per hour.  That means if you have 4 drinks and have a BAC of 0.16, it will take you five hours to get down to 0.08, and it will take ten hours to go from 0.16 to zero.  All the old wives’ tales about ways to sober up quickly are false.  Your body metabolizes alcohol at a set rate, and there is no way to speed it up.  Coffee may make you feel more alert, but it does not lower your BAC.  There is some evidence that food intake along with the alcohol will slightly increase the metabolism rate but not by that much.

The best advice is to avoid drinking and driving.  If you plan to drink, have a designated driver available.  You may not feel impaired after two drinks, but you probably are.  If a designated driver is impossible, drink something nonalcoholic.  If you find yourself drunk and decide to sleep it off in your car, make certain that you are not in control of the vehicle.  Sit in the back seat.  Leave the keys in the trunk or the glove box.  Do not keep them on your person.  Remember, it isn’t just your life you risk when you drink and drive.  You are endangering other people.  A DUI conviction can have a big impact on your life and your career.  You may end up losing your job or scholarship opportunities.  Take care of yourself and others.  Don’t drink and drive.


This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.

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