In the United States, police arrest about 1 million people annually for driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. An arrest on DUI charges can change your life in an instant, resulting in you losing your driver’s license, paying steep fines, and going to jail.
Even after you’ve dealt with the immediate DUI consequences, a DUI offense can cloud your future. DUI convictions put people in jeopardy of losing jobs and other opportunities and can cause your auto insurance rates to skyrocket.
You can get a DUI while operating any motor vehicle, including a boat, scooter, snowmobile, ATV, motorcycle, or tractor. Learning about DUI penalties might make you think twice before getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.
DUI Laws: A Brief History
Drunk driving laws are as old as the Ford Model, the first mass-produced car. New Jersey enacted the first law in 1906, and other states soon followed. These early laws were difficult to enforce because there was no consensus on what qualified as intoxication.
In the 1930s, an inventor created the “Drunkometer,” a balloon-like device that people blew into to determine their blood alcohol level. The device indicated to police whether the driver had been drinking, but authorities still had no consistent definition of intoxication.
By 1940, the National Safety Council worked with medical researchers to define intoxication as a blood alcohol level of .15%. By the mid-1950s, authorities began using the modern Breathalyzer to measure blood alcohol. When a person breathes into the machine, it sets off a chemical reaction that detects alcohol concentration in a person’s blood.
Most states had a DUI law with severe penalties, but authorities and courts rarely enforced them until the 1970s, when states and federal authorities began enacting stricter laws. Under these laws, which built the foundation for today’s DUI laws, police can arrest anyone operating a vehicle with blood alcohol content above a state’s legal limit.
In 1980, a woman founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving after a drunk driver killed her child. This powerful group lobbied Congress for harsher DUI penalties, particularly for repeat offenders. By 2004, all 50 states had enacted a stricter law and lowered their blood alcohol limits to .08%.
There are two main DUI charges:
- Per se DUI relates to a concentration of a substance in a person’s blood (typically alcohol)
- Impairment DUI is a charge used by police based on the results of a field sobriety test
An impairment DUI charge typically is associated with drug intoxication. Most states have a law that make it illegal to drive under the influence of any intoxicating recreational or prescription drugs. Some state laws prohibit any intoxicating medications in your system while operating a motor vehicle, while others have a law that detail specific amounts of each drug that constitute a criminal offense.
How Do You Know If You’re Too Drunk to Drive?
It takes about an hour for your liver to metabolize a cocktail or glass of wine. Your blood alcohol content escalates about 0.2% with each drink. If you don’t wait an hour for your body to process the alcohol, your blood alcohol level will rise with each additional drink.
Although many factors impact how quickly people get drunk, four or five standard drinks will put most people over the legal blood alcohol content level of .08%. A “standard” drink is:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 9 ounces of malt liquor
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of spirits or liquor
There are other ways to gauge your level of intoxication than counting your drinks. If you exhibit any of the following behaviors, you shouldn’t get behind the wheel and possibly break the law.
Physical and Mental Symptoms
Alcohol impacts the speed at which your brain and body share information. Alcohol consumption results in slower reflexes, poor coordination, and mental confusion. Some symptoms of being too intoxicated to drive include:
- Slurring your speech
- Delayed reactions
- Confusion and forgetfulness
- Difficulty understanding or retaining details of a conversation
- Lack of inhibitions
- Excessive tiredness
- Stumbling and balance issues
- Nausea or vomiting
Blacking out or passing out
Devices to Help Gauge Your Intoxication
There are several tools available to help you determine if you’re too drunk to drive, including:
- Personal breath tests: There is a range of individual breath tests available, some so small they can fit on your keychain and work the same way that police devices function.
- Ignition interlock devices: These are breathalyzers you attached to your car’s ignition. The device won’t allow you to start the vehicle until you blow into it. If you register under the legal blood alcohol content limit, it will let you drive.
- Apps: Various apps will help you do everything from track drinks to perform a breath test. Drink tracking apps typically send you alerts if you’ve been over-served.
Although it’s essential to be aware of how much you’ve had to drink, it’s best to never drive even after one drink. Alcohol affects each individual differently, so the only way to avoid a DUI is not to drink and drive. If you are planning on going out for drinks, take public transportation or a cab.
What Happens After a DUI Arrest?
Let’s suppose you ignored all the advice above. Instead, you had a few drinks, got into your car, and soon saw red flashing lights in your rearview window. What happens next?
A police officer likely will conduct a series of sobriety tests. The officer might ask you to walk a straight line or balance on one foot and take a Breathalyzer test. All states have a law that require people arrested for DUI to agree to chemical testing.
Refusal to take a Breathalyzer or other form of test can result in:
- A suspended license
- A criminal charge in addition to the DUI charge
If the police determine there’s cause for arrest, they’ll likely take you to their station or jail. While processing the arrest, the authorities will take your driver’s license and give you a temporary permit. You’ll be able to drive with the permit until authorities determine whether to suspend your license.
What Are Consequences of a DUI?
Drunk driving is a serious crime. It can destroy your finances, personal freedom, and relationships. Below are several DUI consequences.
Jail and Fines
Many states require jail time for DUI offenses. A first-time offender—who hasn’t injured anyone— can get up to 12 months of incarceration after a conviction, and repeat offenders can get up to seven years. In many DUI cases, offenders must perform hours of community service in addition to, or in place of, jail time.
DUI fines vary among states and depend on the severity of the offense. In many states, first-time offenders pay on average $2,500, and repeat offenders pay up to $25,000 after a conviction. Jail time, fines, and penalties escalate if you injured someone.
Suspended License Penalties
A DUI arrest usually results in an immediate license suspension. If convicted of a first DUI, a court can suspend your driver’s license for up to a year. License suspensions are longer for repeat offenders. If you refused to take a breath test, you might get a second suspension that exceeds the DUI penalty length.
Some states have habitual offender laws. This law allow courts to revoke the licenses of repeat offenders permanently. In some cases, a judge might impound or give up your car.
Mandatory Substance Abuse Education
In many cases, a DUI conviction requires offenders to attend a substance abuse treatment program. Attending a program usually is a condition of reinstatement of your driver’s license. You will be required to pay for the treatment program, which costs approximately $250.
Increased Auto Insurance Cost after Conviction
Insurance companies impose harsh penalties for DUI convictions. Your premium can increase from a couple of hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. The increase depends on many factors, including your driving history, the amount of time it’s been since you committed the offense, and the number of violations.
Some companies won’t insure drivers convicted of a DUI. Insurance Navy offers auto insurance to people convicted of DUI. If your provider revokes your policy or raises your rates following a DUI, contact Insurance Navy for a quote.
Mandatory Ignition Interlock Device
Many states require people convicted of DUIs to install an ignition interlock device on their car. The offender must take a breath test before driving and pay installation and monthly fees. Installation costs about $150, and monthly monitoring fees average $80 per month.
Negative Background Checks
A DUI case will stay on your driving record for years. In some states, it is a permanent part of your driving and criminal records. Employers, landlords, and colleges can access this information through a background check.
A DUI conviction could put your job at risk if it involves driving. Regardless of your position, a DUI conviction might require jail time or community service that jeopardizes the time you can devote to your job. When you’re seeking employment, a DUI might put you at a disadvantage against other qualified candidates.
How SR-22 Insurance Can Help You Reinstate Your License
You will need to get a particular type of insurance in many states before you can drive and reinstate your driver’s license. SR22 insurance—also called a certificate of financial responsibility—is a policy that proves you carry the amount of liability car insurance required by your state. If a court orders you to get an SR-22 policy, you’ll need to request one from an insurance company.
The insurance company will file proof of coverage with your state. Typically, DUI convictions require that you carry an SR-22 policy for three years. You must renew an SR-22 policy annually.
Some insurance companies don’t offer SR-22 policies or might cancel your auto insurance after a DUI conviction. Insurance Navy will work with any driver to secure an SR-22 and file it with your Department of Motor Vehicles. Insurance Navy offers SR 22 insurance quotes online or by phone at 888-949-6289.