Wrong Way Drivers in Greater Phoenix Face Prison If Convicted

by Aaron M. Black • August 19, 2021

Wrong Way Driving DefenseIn Phoenix and surrounding municipalities the signs on freeway exit ramps are big and red stating Wrong Way / Do Not Enter. And other warning signs in different sizes are on other thoroughfares.

Still these horrific head-on crashes and dangerous side swipes happen. In an effort to reduce the frequency of wrong way crashes, the state legislature in 2018 increased the penalties for wrong way offenses. About 25 percent of wrong way crashes are fatal.

A first time wrong way arrest for an event that did not result in injury or death under Arizona Revised Statute §1383.A.5. elevates a usual Class 1 DUI misdemeanor DUI to a Class 4 felony.

This law made it illegal to drive the wrong way on any road. Criminal defense attorneys, including myself, note that the revised law says “driving the wrong way on a highway” but it does not define what a highway is. So the revised law expands the offense to surface streets as well. What previously would have been a low level DUI with one day in jail was increased to four months in state prison for wrong way offenders.

A wrong way crash also will lead to additional felony charges for injuries and deaths with harsh punishments if convicted. Beyond the criminal charge, the victims of a wrong way crash can sue the driver in civil court to recover financial burdens and additional compensation for punitive damages. The threshold for winning a civil cases is far less than what it takes to win a criminal case.

Wrong way thermal cameras

The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is using thermal detection cameras at some freeway off ramps to immediately find wrong way vehicles and quickly alert ADOT and the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

ADOT’s placing of the cameras on I-17 was the first use of these cameras in the entire nation. (See the cameras in action.) The agency began using them on I-17 in January 2018 between the “stack” interchange near downtown Phoenix and the Loop 101 interchange.

ADOT Traffic Operations can promptly send warning messages alerting drivers of a wrong way motorist in the area. At this writing, the cameras have so far spotted 22 wrong way drivers.

Wrong way crash frequency

The Arizona Republic reported that in Arizona between 2016 and 2019 wrong way wrecks claimed the lives of 72 people and of those deaths 44 involved alcohol.
An ADOT study reported that 269 wrong way crashes happened between 2004 and 2014, with the majority of them occurring between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and 65 percent of them involving impairment by alcohol or drugs. The majority, 57 percent, occurred on weekends.

The Federal Highway Administration found that on average between 300 and 400 people are killed each year in the U.S. because of wrong way drivers, which accounts for 1 percent of the total number of national highway fatalities.

The majority of wrong way episodes are caused by alcohol impaired drivers and most wrong way episodes happen near bar closing time, 2 a.m., according to ADOT.

Arizona legal limit is 0.08 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) but higher levels increase the seriousness of the charge to an aggravated factor with increased punishments. A driver can be charged with a DUI even if the BAC is less than the legal base line. This is a result of Arizona’s zero tolerance policy for impaired driving. So a driver who is just slightly impaired can face a DUI charge.

Disoriented and confused, alcohol or drug impaired drivers

Most cases of entering a road going the wrong way involve alcohol or drug impairment, but so can a driver who is disoriented. Disorientation can be caused by delirium or an abnormal brain function that is temporary. Dementia is a recurring issue that affects the mind. Even an infection in the brain or a reaction to a medication can cause confusion.

Other wrong way factors include distraction, the road was not familiar to the driver, poor visibility, drowsiness, poorly marked freeway ramps, and drivers of advanced age with visual or cognitive issues.

An ADOT study reports that wrong way drivers are younger than 35. Wrong way drivers with an average age of 72 are confused.

Wrong way driving and civil law

If a wrong way driver was not impaired by alcohol or drugs and did not cause a crash or injury, the driver can be assessed a civil penalty with a fine of $500 and a court order to attend and finish traffic survival school under Arizona Revised Statute §28-694.

Wrong way conviction consequences

A felony conviction has long arms. Felons lose the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, the right to vote in elections or hold public office, and makes holding or getting a job or to rent a place to live problematic. Those who have a professional license, such as teachers, nurses and other professions will have their license revoked. The felony conviction will follow the offender for 99 years.

Other than prison a convicted wrong way driver faces fines and surcharges totaling $4,675.50 and the license to drive is revoked for one year. After 90 days, a restricted license to drive to work or school can be issued. To get the license requires the person to purchase a SR-22. (SR stands for safety responsibility.) That is not an insurance policy. It is a certificate proving auto insurance coverage is in effect.

Common wrong way defenses

It is best at the arrest to invoke your right to remain silent and to have an attorney during interrogation. Each wrong way case is unique in its set of facts which can determine the defense strategy, but these are the common defenses:
  • Challenge the breath test’s accuracy because the breathalyzer was not properly calibrated.
  • Challenge the blood test in that the samples were not stored properly and therefore are tainted.
  • The police report has errors.
  • Impairment was not involved.
  • The driver was confused.
  • The size and placement of the wrong way sign was faulty.
  • The design of the exit ramp was insufficient.
  • Challenge the state’s case by conducting an independent accident reconstruction.

Why select Defense Attorney Aaron M. Black Law

If you or a loved one has been arrested, it is crucial to have experienced legal representations at the earliest possible time. Aaron M. Black Law fights hard for good people who find themselves in bad situations.

I actually tried the first wrong way driving DUI to a Jury in Arizona State history.

I have years of experience defending criminal cases always with the goal of achieving an acquittal, getting the charge dismissed; or if these are not possible, negotiating with prosecutors to reduce the charge to a less serious offense.

In selecting me to build your defense, you will always have direct individual communication with me and you will never be handed off to an assistant.

Launch your defense by calling 480-729-1683 at any time on any day, including weekends and holidays, and I will promptly return your call unless I am at trial or in court. Or use my online contact form.

I defend wrong way driving charges and other criminal cases in justice, municipal, state and federal courts in Phoenix, Scottsdale and other cities in Maricopa County.

About Aaron M. Black
  • The National Trial Lawyers Association rates me among the top 100 trial lawyers in the country.
  • The National Association of Distinguished Counsel places me in the top one percent of the finest lawyers in the nation.
  • For the 8th consecutive year, I was named a 2021 DUI Super Lawyer in Phoenix. You can learn more about my education and experience here.


About the Author

Aaron Black Phoenix DUI LawyerAaron Black is the founder and sole attorney of the Law Office of Aaron Black. Located in Phoenix, Arizona, his DUI and criminal defense law firm provides legal services to people who have received felony or misdemeanor charges from the state.

Aaron has developed a strong interest in defending people who have been arrested and received criminal charges for driving under the influence. With his professionalism and knowledge of Arizona DUI and criminal law, he has acted as a check and balance on the police, prosecution and courts and has protected a great number of his clients from excessive and unfair sentencing.

Along with DUI defense, Aaron handles a range of other criminal defense matters, including aggravated assault, burglary, domestic violence, drug possession, drug trafficking, fraud defense, insurance fraud, sex crimes, and white-collar crime cases.

After graduating college in 2003 from the University of Arizona, Aaron decided to pursue a law degree. He followed a family long tradition and went to the University of South Dakota School of Law where he pursued his goal of becoming a criminal defense lawyer.

After passing the Arizona and South Dakota bar exams, Aaron joined the Maricopa County Office of the Public Defender where he defended hundreds of people charged with serious criminal offenses. His work as a public defender helped him sharpen his litigation skills and gave him a unique insight into the Arizona criminal justice system.

Over the course of his 15-year legal career, Aaron has spent a considerable amount of time in both Arizona justice, municipal, state and federal courts. He has argued over 50 jury trials, tried over 100 bench trials and has become one of the highest-rated criminal and DUI defense attorneys in Phoenix and the surrounding areas. He has received a 10/10 rating from the legal directory Avvo because of his legal background and successful case record. Since 2014, he has received the Super Lawyer rating for his work as a Phoenix DUI Attorney and criminal defense attorney.

You can review Aaron’s Attorney Bio page for more information about his background, education and experience as a Phoenix DUI and criminal defense attorney.
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