Getting behind the wheel after a night of drinking can be one of the worst mistakes a person makes, yet people still do it. Getting caught in such a position can be damaging for you both financially and mentally. One single DUI can affect your life in a variety of different ways. A conviction will seep into every area of your driving record, causing you headaches during job searches and when shopping for auto insurance. And these problems simply do not go away once you have paid all your fines and served your jail time. A DUI comes with moderate-to-severe penalties that you should be aware of before making such a careless decision.
What is a DUI?
Driving under the influence (DUI) is when a person operates a vehicle while they are impaired by alcohol or another substance to the point where they are a danger to themselves and others on the road. Committing such an offense is serious and has some very damaging consequences. The penalties for such driving can affect both your mental state and financial situation. And if you go on to harm someone while driving under the influence of alcohol, the consequences only escalate. And can affect you for the rest of your life.
DUI vs. DWI vs. OWI vs. OUI
Depending on the state you live in, you may see driving under the influence convictions referred to in a couple of different ways. Some states even utilize two different acronyms. A lot of it depends on how you got caught drinking while driving and is strictly logistical. The most common acronyms are as follows:
- DUI - Driving under the influence
- DWI - Driving while intoxicated (or impaired)
- OWI - Operating while intoxicated (or impaired)
- OUI - Operating under the influence
For the most part, there are no major differences between these charges. They all relate to driving while intoxicated or under the influence of some substance. Some states just choose to use different acronyms. States have their own DUI laws outlined, and they will apply them how they see fit for your case.
Consequences of Drunk Driving
Following a drunk driving conviction, you will be facing a lot of serious penalties. The scale of severity can range based on the facts of your case, but you will be facing jail time, fines, probation, and more. A single DUI offense can be damaging for years and years. The consequences of such a conviction can be found below.
How much time you spend in jail following a DUI depends on both the state you live in and the circumstances surrounding your conviction. Your jail sentence can greatly vary. Many states have set a mandatory minimum time you must spend in jail following a DUI conviction. Even if it is your first offense, you may spend a couple of days in jail, which does not seem like a lot but carries its own consequences. If the circumstances of your conviction are severe, you may spend six months or longer in jail. Everything only escalates if you have injured someone while under the influence or if you have multiple DUI convictions on your record. It is possible to spend several years in jail following a DUI should a judge feel it is needed. This can especially be the case if you have killed someone while driving under the influence. That adds a whole other layer to your DUI and has even greater consequences.
Being convicted of a DUI can be very, very expensive. There are numerous fines that come with the offense. What you pay varies depending on the state you are in, but, on average, a first-time DUI conviction can result in fines ranging anywhere from $500 to $2,000. However, fines can easily exceed this average, given the circumstances of your case. These penalties may also be affected based on if you damaged property or endangered a child while driving under the influence. You also should account for court fees that will be associated with your case. Fees and fines will come into play in a variety of ways as you work to resolve your DUI offense. Even your auto insurance provider will expect a little extra following a DUI. More on that will be explored in a later section.
You will have to make a court appearance following your DUI. During this time, you will face charges, and it will be outlined what your penalties are. It is possible for you to deny the charges and plead not guilty; however, this will most likely do more harm than good since a video of you failing the field sobriety test will be presented. This can only complicate things for yourself. Court appearances come with legal fees, and dragging it out into a trial will increase the expenses. Unless you are very confident and can prove the charges are unreasonable, it would be best not to test your luck in the legal system and take what the state assigns you.
Driver’s License Restrictions
In pretty much every state, you will lose your driving privileges for a set period of time, even if it is your first DUI offense. Your license could also be suspended for simply refusing to take the field sobriety test when suspected of a DUI. In some states, you can apply for a “hardship license,” which allows you to only drive to and from school or work. However, for any other errand, you will have to find a different way to get there. This can be seriously taxing for both you and your loved ones, who now may be responsible for driving you around. DUI convictions do not only affect yourself but everyone around you.
In many cases, a DUI is a criminal offense. Even if you don’t face any jail time, you will most likely be placed on probation for a set period of time. The consequences will be outlined by the judge overseeing your case. Typically, when on probation, you cannot be in a business that deals with alcohol (ex. A bar), nor can you use alcohol or other drugs. A judge may decide to include other requirements, all of which will depend on your case and the state you are in. Probation will also have another fee you have to pay. You will usually end up paying a monthly amount for the cost of administering and supervising your period of probation.
Auto Insurance Rates
One thing drivers may forget is that their auto insurance rates will be directly impacted by a DUI conviction. Following being charged, you will most likely be required to get SR22 insurance through your current provider. SR22 insurance is not a type of insurance but instead a certificate of financial responsibility that proves to the state that you, as a high-risk driver, carry the mandatory minimum amount of car insurance. This certificate is most commonly needed following a DUI conviction. There is no hiding this infliction from your auto insurance company. They will clearly see you have driven irresponsibility and will raise your rates to reflect this. Premiums can double or even sometimes triple following such an offense. Some insurers may even drop you altogether, and finding a new provider will now be challenging, thanks to your driving record.
Alternative DUI Penalties
Upon being charged with a DUI, there may be some extra penalties. For example, Instead of paying a fine, you would go to an alcohol education program. Or these penalties can be included on top of the other requirements. These work to provide you with various alcohol-related information and supply the courts with more details about your circumstances. Requirements for completing the following programs can vary based on the state you are in and the judge overseeing your case.
Alcohol Education Program
Completing an alcohol education program may be required by the courts following a DUI. An alcohol education program works to teach drivers about the effects of alcohol, blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) limits, and information on where to get help for substance abuse. The program you are required to complete can vary. You should expect to shell out money to pay for the courses as well. Attendance for alcohol education programs will also most likely be monitored.
Alcohol Disorder Evaluation
Many courts may require you to be checked out by a mental health professional. Your use of alcohol (and thus your decision to drive under the influence) may be directly tied to your current mental state. Through this evaluation, the mental health professional will be looking for any signs of alcohol abuse. Whatever the results may be can greatly affect your sentencing, probation, and treatment requirements. As will be explored in the next section, courts generally want those convicted of a DUI to get the help they need so they can minimize the threat of repeat DUI offenders. This keeps you and everyone else on the road safe. These evaluations can be expensive, and states will not pay for them even if they are mandated by the court in most cases.
Substance Abuse Treatment
Following an interview with a mental health provider, you could be required to complete substance abuse treatment as part of your penalties. The type of treatment mandated can vary. You may be required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, complete substance or alcohol use disorder therapy, or participate in an inpatient alcohol abuse rehabilitation program. Treatment can be required as courts try to decrease the number of drink driving incidents. Requiring someone to complete such programs can give them the mental help they need in order to end their alcohol dependence or addiction. Failing to complete what has been assigned can lead to longer jail times or increased fines. These treatments may be needed in order to complete your probation or reobtain your driving privileges. They should be taken seriously, and you should complete them to the best of your ability.
Ignition Interlock Device
Many states have begun requiring drivers convicted of a DUI to install an ignition interlock device. An ignition interlock device prevents your vehicle was starting until you complete a breath test. If alcohol is detected on your breath, the device prevents your car from starting. This may be offered as a way for you to reinstate your driving privileges, or it can follow as a requirement after your license suspension time period is complete. Eligibility for an ignition interlock device may be determined by the courts. It should be noted that they can be very costly, only adding to the other fines and fees associated with DUI convictions. Some people may find this worth it, though, as many times it gives them back their driving privileges and allows them to go about their life in a semi-normal fashion after a DUI.
DUI And Your Driving Record
One DUI conviction can stay on your driving record and can haunt you for a very long time. Once you are convicted, a record of it will be made. The history of this offense could stay with you for years (or for life, depending on the circumstances). Insurance companies will especially take note of it. If you switch providers, they will look at your driving record for as far back as five to seven years. This offense will most likely still be there, causing them to either deny you coverage or offer you steep premiums. If you are subjected to a background check as part of a job application, the DUI can show up there as well. You may be barred from obtaining certain jobs, like being a delivery driver. The general time frame a DUI will stay on your record varies greatly by state, but you should assume it will be there for a while. Such an offense is a very serious one, and making it go away is nearly impossible.
Minors With a DUI Conviction
If you are a minor who receives a DUI, you may be facing slightly different penalties than what an adult in the same position would face. Due to you being under the legal drinking age (21 years old), driving with even the smallest amount of alcohol in your system is grounds for a DUI. Many states have adopted zero-tolerance laws in regards to such an offense. You may automatically have to serve a certain amount of time in jail, pay a series of hefty fines, and most likely will need to attend alcohol treatment. Community service could also be implemented. The full extent of penalties varies by state, but even if this is your first offense, being caught drinking and driving while underage will come with some serious penalties. If you continue this behavior, the consequences will only get worse. This is an offense that can follow you for the rest of your life. While teens are known for making mistakes, this is certainly one no one wants to make at any age.
Want to read more about this topic? Check out our blog article about Reckless Driving.