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Ducey wants felony punishments for wrong-way drivers in Arizona

This photo provided by the Arizona Department of Public Safety shows a mangled car wreck along southbound Interstate 17, north of Black Canyon City, Ariz., Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, in a rural area following a wrong-way crash that authorities say injured at least four people. The Daisy Mountain Fire Department says four people were transported by helicopter and ambulance after the wreck early Tuesday morning. (Arizona Department of Public Safety via AP)

PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey called Monday for felony penalties for intoxicated motorists driving the wrong way on Arizona highways.

“Let’s pass a bill: Those reckless enough to put lives on the line by driving the wrong-way on our highways, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, should face a felony conviction and prison time,” he said during his annual State of the State address.

“No exceptions.”

In a press release, Ducey’s office said the governor has earmarked $1.4 million in his budget — which will be released Friday — to increase the amount of troopers working to prevent wrong-way crashes.

“We’re going to zero-in on these criminals, with the goal of stopping these accidents and saving lives,” Ducey said.

More than 1,700 wrong-way drivers were reported in Arizona last year, up from 2016. Col. Frank Milstead, who heads the Arizona Department of Public Safety, told KTAR News 92.3 FM that intoxication plays a large part in the number of people driving in the wrong direction.

“If you look at the numbers of arrested drunk drivers over the last 10 years, they haven’t changed a lot because we as a society haven’t gotten in front of this issue and decided it’s unacceptable,” he said.

Most DUIs in Arizona are misdemeanors under state law, though some can be tried as felonies.

Ducey has been vocal in the past about the state taking action to solve its wrong-way driver issue.

Last month, his office partnered with the state departments of transportation, public safety and highway safety to launch a program designed to prepare motorists for potential wrong-way drivers.

The state began construction on a wrong-way driver detection system in November.

The project was approved by the state Transportation Board in June and then accelerated by Ducey after a series of wrong way accident-related deaths occurred in the same month.

The detection system, once installed, will cause lights to flash at wrong-way drivers to get them to stop. They will also alert authorities and make traffic cameras turn toward the driver so the vehicle can be tracked.

They are expected to be operational early this year.

KTAR News’ Kathy Cline contributed to this report. 

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