In 2018 the Arizona Legislature enacted a law, 28 A.R.S. § 1383.A.5, which made it a felony to drive the wrong way on a “highway” while under the influence. The mandatory minimum sentence for this offense includes four months in the Arizona State Prison. Under this law someone can be sentenced to State Prison for what would otherwise be a first offense misdemeanor DUI if they were driving the wrong way on a “highway.” When the bill which lead to the law was being considered by the Legislature the bill’s main sponsor, Representative Farnsworth, told the Legislature the bill was intended to apply to “Controlled Access Highways” or “Freeways.” One of the main reasons offered in support of making wrong way driving on a controlled access highway a felony was that with the higher speed on those roads a wrong way driver-caused accident would be far more likely result in death or serious injury than an accident on a surface street which has lower speeds.
Unfortunately, the bill and law does not say its applicability is limited to “Controlled Access Highways” or “Freeways” but rather only says it applies to “Highways.” Under Arizona law the term “Highways” is not a precisely defined term and depending on the context the term as used could mean any public road. Because the term “highways” is vague, county attorneys have been attempting to apply this new felony to many roads which are not “Controlled Access Highways.”
HB2296, which is now pending in the Legislature, makes several changes to DUI statutes including 28 A.R.S. § 1383.A.5, the Wrong Way Driving Felony. HB2296, section 5 (page 6) limits the applicability of 1383.A.5, to “Controlled Access Highways or State Highways.” By including “State Highways” the statute’s applicability would still be broader than the intent of the original statute and would include such places as U.S. 60 within the city of Globe, where in places the posted speed limit is 30 m.p.h. Keeping in mind in 2018 the main concern when the original bill was considered was accidents at the higher speeds on Controlled Access Highways, if this bill were modified to say, “Controlled Access Highways or State Highways where the posted speed limit is no less than 65 m.p.h.” it would come closer to complying with what was the original rationalization to make wrong way driving a felony.
You can follow the progress of the HB2296 as it goes through the legislature.
For more information about Arizona DUI and criminal law issues please contact Gordon Thompson who has used his experience to write a blog on topics of interest. You can also chat with Gordon about your specific questions.