Drinking and driving is a dangerous, yet common activity in the United States. It causes thousands of deaths each year, results in severe penalties and has life-altering consequences. Those who drink and drive also face numerous court appearances, a criminal record and an unshakable stigma.
In 2007, Dana Stone went out to eat with a friend on a Friday night. Stone drove. They shared a bottle of wine at the restaurant. After dinner, they walked to a nearby bar for a couple more drinks.
Stone felt good. She thought she could drive. At the end of the night, she drove her friend home, said her goodbyes and went on her way. During the ride, she swerved her 2007 C230 Mercedes off the road and hit a parked truck. The vehicle belonged to a police officer.
“I could have killed somebody. Or that could have been my kid killed.”
“[The police] basically handcuffed me, read me my rights, arrested me, put me in the back of the patrol car and took me to jail,” Stone wrote in Sacramento Magazine.
Stone was 46 at the time of the article. She was a mother, lived in a quiet neighborhood in Folsom, California, and had a good job. She lived a life similar to that of millions of women across America. Her life changed that night. She went to jail, sharing a small, concrete cell with 20 other women. Her car was impounded. For 30 days, she could not drive to work — a job that required travel.
Stone said she spent thousands of dollars in legal fees, wiping out her savings account. She was ordered to pick up trash from the side of the road. She had to attend alcohol education classes and Mothers Against Drunk Driving meetings where she heard harrowing stories of drunk driving.
“You think, that could have been me,” she wrote. “I could have killed somebody. Or that could have been my kid killed.”
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Drinking and driving is a problem in the United States. In 2014, more than 1.1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 10,000 people were killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents.
In the United States, those 21 years and older with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) could be arrested for a DUI — driving under the influence of alcohol.
Some states use differing acronyms, including:
All refer to driving under the influence of a substance, although a DUI refers to a lower level of impairment in some states. All could result in a bevy of fines and fees, a criminal record, bodily injury or death.
The flashing blue lights of a police vehicle can induce anxiety and fear, especially for those who have been drinking. The subsequent process includes roadside tests, court appearances and possible jail sentences.
A police officer should have probable cause for pulling you over. You may be swerving lanes, speeding or committing other traffic-related violations that indicate impairment.
The officer may look for signs of intoxication. Bloodshot eyes, nervousness and the smell of alcohol are indicators. The cop may ask you to exit the vehicle.
If the officer suspects drinking and driving, he or she will ask you to complete a series of field sobriety tests, the most common of which are the one-leg stand, the walk-and-turn and the Gaze Nystagmus, an eye exam.
A preliminary alcohol screening comes next. Each state has implied consent laws allowing individuals to select from a breathalyzer, urine or blood test. The measurement of blood-alcohol content could take place at a nearby hospital. However, you must choose one of the examinations or face a penalty.
If the officer believes intoxication may be a factor based on the tests, he or she will read you your Miranda rights and make a formal arrest.
The booking process occurs at an enforcement station where they take fingerprints, shoot photographs and ask you additional questions. If permitted, you may post bail. Bail is determined based on criminal history and the seriousness of the offense.
An arraignment hearing takes place the next morning at a county court. The judge reads aloud the charges and asks whether you prefer to hire an attorney, a public defender or represent yourself.
A preliminary hearing is held 10–20 days later, during which a judge determines if sufficient evidence exists to uphold a charge.
Some states, such as Colorado, conduct a pretrial conference in lieu of the preliminary hearing. Both parties meet to discuss a plea bargain, reducing the severity of the charge. The case must be resolved by plea or taken to trial.
During trial, witnesses and police officers provide testimonies, and cross-examinations take place. The jury deliberates, a verdict is given and sentences are announced. Convictions generally include fines, incarceration, probation, community service, counseling or rehab.
If you are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol, you must choose between a blood, urine or breathalyzer test. Each test measures BAC. Refusing any exam can be cause for arrest and used against you in court.
The blood test has proven controversial. Some states not only require it, but officers are permitted to forcibly draw a suspect’s blood. This is rare, but has happened in cases of serious accidents.
Many believe the procedure violates a person’s constitutional rights. Jake Johnson, an attorney at Thomas Pollart & Miller LLC in Greenwood Village, Colorado, is one of those voices.
“My opinion is that this violates your Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate yourself, and there is an appeal on that very issue taking place right now,” Johnson told DrugRehab.com.
The case involves three men who were each individually prosecuted or threatened with prosecution for refusing a blood or breath test. They sued police for violating their Fourth Amendment right, which prevents unreasonable search and seizure. Their cases, consolidated as Birchfield v. North Dakota, were eventually taken to the Supreme Court.
In June 2016, the court ruled that police must present a warrant before requiring a blood test. This will affect the 13 states that have criminalized refusal of the test. Suspected drunk drivers can still be arrested for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer.
A DUI is not cheap. If you are convicted of driving under the influence you will pay financially, legally and professionally. These effects can linger for years and, in some states, for a lifetime. A number of factors determine the total cost of a DUI for first-time offenders.
Court fees play a role, though they vary by county and state. The average cost ranges between $250 and $1,500. Hiring a lawyer may cost an additional $2,000. However, a legal representative can save you from a pricey conviction and additional fees.
You will pay fees for license reinstatement and a formal hearing. Generally, these fees can cost you anywhere from $250 to $500 for first-time offenses. Some states require that you attend alcohol abuse classes, which cost between $100 and $500.
DUI offenders are considered high risk drivers by their insurance companies, which means your rates will increase for at least three years. If another vehicle was involved, costs could climb sharply, your insurance can skyrocket, and you may have to pay for injuries or damage to property.
“Most, but not all, insurance companies will drop your coverage if you are convicted of DUI,” said Johnson. “There are companies out there that will cover these high-risk drivers but it will come at the cost of increased insurance premiums.”
The estimated cost of a DUI varies by state. The average total cost in the United States:
|Insurance Rate Increases||$3,600–$6,600|
Fines are broken up into smaller costs. These payments cover a variety of fees:
|State Restitution Fund||$100|
|Alcohol Abuse Education Fund||$50|
|Blood Breath Testing Fee||$37|
|Jail Cite and Release Fee||$10|
|Driving Alcohol School||$500|
|License Reissue Fee||$100|
|Towing and Storage||$187|
The number of fees and penalties vary greatly by state. For example, first-time offenders in Colorado face:
Colorado has another alcohol-related driving offense: DWAI. This limits a driver’s BAC to 0.05 percent. Violators are subject to consequences that include $200–$500 in fines, eight points added to license suspension and up to 180 days in jail and 48 hours of community service.
In Washington fines are higher. Those with a BAC under 0.15 percent face:
Penalties for those with a BAC between 0.08 and 0.10 in New Jersey include:
A first-time DUI generally is a misdemeanor. However, alarmingly high BAC levels, bodily damage to another driver or multiple offenses could constitute a felony.
Two-time offenders face heftier penalties, including lengthier jail sentences. For example, two-time offenders in Arizona face a minimum 90-day imprisonment, a $3,000 fine, community service, entry into an alcohol education program and a suspended license.
A third offense carries even heavier fines, longer jail sentences and the possible termination of license and seizure of vehicle. In Florida, a third offense within 10 years of a previous conviction leads to a 10-year suspension of license, fines of $2,000–$5,000 and a minimum 30-day jail sentence.
In California, those convicted of a fourth DUI within 10 months of third offense face 16 months in jail, up to $18,000 in overall fines and a four-year license suspension.
A DUI conviction in a school zone brings about tougher penalties in all states. For example, in New Jersey, the first offense results in a 12- to 24-month license suspension, a $500–$800 fine and 60 days imprisonment.
Multiple offenses could lead to community service, larger fines, longer suspensions and jail sentences.
Many states enforce no tolerance laws, meaning those under 21 or repeat offenders cannot drive with a BAC above 0.01 or 0.02 percent. Arizona and North Carolina have zero-tolerance laws, which means having any alcohol in their system can result in a DUI.
Generally, underage DUI offenders have their licenses suspended for a minimum of one year, have their vehicles impounded, and enter a three-year probationary period. Community service is a common punishment. Some states send the offender to jail for up to a year.
The rise in annual automotive insurance over the 13 years following a DUI can reach $40,000, according to Stopteendui.com. The addition of fees and driver’s education classes can bring the total to nearly $46,000 during that 13-year period.
Schools are free to discipline a student convicted of a DUI, contingent upon the institution’s policy. Some private high schools and colleges expel students upon conviction. Brigham Young University has dismissed students in the past for violating its alcohol policy.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Traffic Safety Factsheet revealed that in 2014:
A DUI offense can have indirect effects on minors as well. College and job applications may request information regarding legal convictions. Young people could have a harder time entering college or finding employment.
Many online campaigns, news documentaries and nonprofits make the problem of drunk driving widely known. Impairment caused by an illicit drug is not as commonly discussed, but it is just as problematic.
In 2013, more than 31 million people drove after using drugs or alcohol, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Most individuals were aged 18–25, and the most common drug of choice was marijuana. Teens who use cannabis are 65 times more likely to get into a car crash than those who do not. In fact, more high school seniors drive after marijuana use than alcohol use.
Marijuana can impair judgement and manipulate coordination. This can cause lane-swerving and poor reaction time. A 2008 study published in Accident Analysis & Prevention found that cannabis greatly influences the ability to drive based on a simulator.
A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology evaluated more than 23,500 fatal vehicular accidents in six states.
The report found:
In 2012, Colorado legalized the personal use and regulation of marijuana. The following year, 44 fatal accidents involved the drug. In 2014, the number rose to 83.
Cannabis is also legal in Washington state. Since 2012, fatal crashes involving marijuana have doubled, according to researchers at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. One in six drivers involved in fatal accidents in 2014 had the drug in their system.
However, numerous drugs can affect driving.
Benzodiazepines can cause drowsiness. Cocaine affects concentration and causes impulsive behaviors. Amphetamines impair vision and increase a person’s willingness to take risks. When these substances are combined with alcohol, as they often are, an individual’s reaction time and coordination further plummet.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 13 percent of fatal vehicular accidents in 2005 involved drugs. This statistic increased to 16 percent in 2007 and 18 percent in 2009.
Each state addresses drug-impaired driving. Nearly one-third of states have zero-tolerance laws for one or more drugs, including marijuana. An additional six states have per se laws, which set limits on the allowable amount of a drug in a person’s system.
Eighteen states have zero-tolerance or per se laws for cannabis.
Violators are subject to fines, penalties or incarceration. In Florida, drivers under the influence of a drug face a fine of $500–$1,000 or up to six months in jail. Repeat offenders face $1,000–$2,000 in fines or up to nine months imprisonment.
Determining whether someone is intoxicated has proved difficult. Authorities often do not check for drugs if the driver has a high BAC. Many drivers who cause crashes have drugs and alcohol in their systems. Plus, a roadside test that measures drug levels does not yet exist.
“[Authorities in Colorado] can test for the active and inactive agent in marijuana,” William E. Smith, criminal defense attorney at DUI Defense Matters in Greenwood Village, Colorado, told DrugRehab.com. “However, you can’t measure whether someone is truly impaired.”
The Birchfield v. North Dakota decision will affect drug testing moving forward. For example, Colorado’s express consent statute requires blood testing for suspicion of drug consumption. This is now deemed unconstitutional without a warrant.
Smith expects lawyers to argue against the warrantless drawing of blood and the state to modify its express consent statute in the near future.
“This ruling is only a few days old but clearly will have a big impact on our practice,” he said.
In many states, multiple DUI convictions yield jail sentences. But critics maintain that time away from family or loss of employment stemming from imprisonment presents further hardships.
Johnson believes short jail sentences could be beneficial. He says many offenders come out focused and ready to make changes in their lives. However, it can be counterproductive for repeat offenders with an alcohol use disorder.
“For those people that pick up that second or third DUI, an extensive jail sentence is only going to derail the positives in their life,” said Johnson. “Those individuals need treatment, not a long jail sentence.”
Treatment can help change a person’s attitude, beliefs and behaviors toward alcohol. It can also reduce criminal activity, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
In many states, alcohol abuse assessments or rehab is mandatory for repeat offenders. Treatment may also be offered in lieu of incarceration. For example, drug courts hold the offender accountable while providing treatment. Participants are drug tested regularly and appear before a judge to track progress.
According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, drug courts reduce recidivism rates by up to 40 percent. In fact, 75 percent of drug court participants remain arrest-free for two years after graduation.
Many states require alcohol education and therapy classes for DUI offenders. A drug or alcohol expert may recommend to the court the amount of therapy needed. The judge can accept those recommendations and add additional courses if necessary.
Alcohol education courses outline the effects of alcohol abuse. The classes also cover the effects of alcohol on driving, state laws and helpful resources and references. These courses can reduce or replace incarceration, and successful completion may restore driving privileges.
A standard education program for first-time offenders lasts 12 weeks and covers 36 hours of course work. Repeat offenders may face mandatory 30-month programs. However, duration can be reduced through plea bargaining.
In California, the length of enrollment is contingent on their BAC level. First-time offenders generally take 12-hour classes in addition to group and individual counseling.
Two-time offenders must complete 12 hours of drug or alcohol education, 52 hours of group counseling, biweekly individual counseling and six hours of community reentry monitoring.
Three-time offenders must take a 12-hour education course, 78 hours of group counseling and up to 300 hours of community service. Additional services may be recommended by a judge.
States may offer numerous diversionary programs in place of incarceration. These programs can help you avoid prison, engage in productive activities and ultimately turn your life around. If you are charged with more serious felonies, such as a DUI that resulted in fatalities, you may not be granted this opportunity.
A judge may require electronic monitoring, an ankle bracelet that tracks your location. This is also known as house arrest. Electronic monitoring may be implemented in lieu of or in addition to jail time.
This program allows you to attend work during the day and return to your assigned quarters afterward. You may continue to work at your current place of employment or for an assigned government agency. These programs are generally reserved for those sentenced to fewer than 90 days in jail.
If a judge determines a substance use disorder exists, a sober living environment may be required. These facilities offer guidance, support and supervision to those with alcohol problems.
Community service may also be an option, allowing you to pay for your DUI by giving back to the community. Community service may include public speaking engagements, cleaning up highways or volunteering for charities.
The hidden cost of a DUI rivals any financial consequence. The stigma attached to a single conviction can affect various aspects of your life. It can be emotionally taxing, leading some into depression.
Your license is revoked for a period of time. You cannot rent a car from most national brands. You may be denied security clearance or unable to purchase a home.
Explaining the DUI to family, friends and coworkers can be particularly difficult. For example, repeat offenders in most states must install an interlock ignition device, which gauges blood alcohol content before they can start their vehicle. In some states, first-time offenders must install the device.
“I repeatedly hear from clients how embarrassing the ignition interlock device is to have in the vehicle since all passengers will know they had a DUI that caused them to need the device,” said Johnson. “This is particularly hard for parents when they have to explain the device to their children.”
The stigma isn’t permanent. Countless violators have reinvented their reputations, including President George W. Bush, who plead guilty to a DUI in 1976.
However, a DUI conviction remains on your record forever in some states. This can affect professional relationships, college and housing applications, and employment. In fact, certain employers — such as commercial driving agencies — may not accept people convicted of a DUI.
A DUI conviction in Colorado yields a suspended commercial license. A second conviction warrants a permanent ban.
“You lose your ability to make money.
It affects personal relationships as well. Marriages may dissolve. Some feel shame and are embarrassed to discuss the situation with family members and friends. Others may grow irritated with questions about their perceived alcohol abuse or wellbeing.
Stone’s social life changed after her conviction. She can no longer drive to her friend’s house for a couple of drinks, once a common activity. She cannot drink with friends at a restaurant and then drive home.
“I can’t ever do that again,” she explained. “So when you want to have a barbecue or a dinner party or whatever — c’mon, we’re social beings — you want to get together with others. And if you’re drinking, you’ve got to drive home. And if you drive home, you risk the chance of getting a DUI.”
Impaired driving gives way to numerous consequences — none bigger than the loss of life.
Chris Mason was a college student killed while riding with a drunk driver. Janakae Toinette Sargent was a 20-year-old woman killed after being hit by a drunk driver. Zachary Gonzalez, a teenager, died after being hit by a driver high on Valium and cocaine.
Driving after a couple of drinks at happy hour, a concert or a sporting event could produce fatalities.
MADD, an organization working to prevent drunk driving and underage drinking, provides some ways to help a friend avoid this situation:
A simple conversation could have saved thousands from a lifetime of consequences. Stone shared her own misfortune to help others understand a reality: this could happen to anybody.
“They need to see a face. They need to see it’s not some creep. It’s somebody who’s real and normal,” she wrote. “I’m not doing this for my 15 minutes of fame. I’m doing this because I want to help others.”
The CDC offers information on motor vehicle safety, including injury prevention, impaired driving and seat belt laws.
NETS is an employer-led organization dedicated to preventing traffic crashes. Its website offers aggressive and impaired driving resources, information on road safety and a driver fatigue quiz.
NHTSA provides information on motor vehicle safety. It operates a website, Stop Impaired Driving, that presents research on the impact of impaired driving, strategies to prevent DUI and a behavioral health treatment services locator.
SAMHSA presents information on underage drinking, including risk factors, prevention opportunities and statistics. Its website also covers the STOP Act Legislation, a SAMHSA funded initiative aimed to reduce teen alcohol abuse.
This website offers a comprehensive look at the consequences of DUI, including a brief history of drinking and driving, arrest statistics and information on teen drunk driving prevention.
The organization offers information on alcohol, including its effects, statistics and trends, and the consequences of drugged driving. It also covers the science of addiction, the dangers of substance abuse and the importance of treatment.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism runs a website on college drinking prevention, which offers information on college alcohol policies, studies and statistics, and alcohol myths.
This nonprofit organization strives to reduce underage drunk driving. Its website provides information on the dangers of teenage drunk driving, drugged driving facts and stats, and victim stories.
A public education initiative dedicated to underage drinking prevention. Its website covers alcohol-related facts and stats, prevention techniques and various online resources.
NCSL provides information on drunk and drugged driving, traffic safety bills and state-by-state DUI laws. It also offers facts and stats related to drinking and driving.
NCSC’s website includes a driving impaired resource guide, which cover DUI and DWI laws, alcohol interlock programs, how to reduce driver distractions and an impaired driving fact sheet. It also includes information on the court’s role in reducing impaired driving.