Question: Settle an argument about driving under the influence auto accidents. I say that they happen more at night, and my friend says it’s just as likely to happen during the day as it is as night. And not that I plan on being on drinking and driving, but what are the possible penalties?
Answer: You win. Nights and weekends are the worst times for DUI accidents. Just don’t become a loser by ever driving while under the influence – the cost and penalties can be staggering. Common estimates for the financial costs of a first-time, no-accident DUI -- for fines, bail, lawyers, interlock fees, alcohol classes and increased insurance premiums -- range from $9,000 to $12,000.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) found the rate of alcohol impairment among drivers involved in fatal accidents in 2011 was 4.5 times higher at night than during the day.
NHTSA data from 2009 found that between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. had the most fatal crashes where a driver was impaired by alcohol. The worst of all was midnight to 3 a.m., where 66 percent of the fatal auto accidents involved a drunken driver.
The NHTSA also found that 31 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes during the weekend were alcohol-impaired, compared with only 15 percent during the week.
Penalties are severe
Being charged and convicted of a DUI is a costly affair that has many penalties associated with it. (See “Calculate your limit and avoid DUI disaster”)
A DUI conviction is a black mark on your driving record. The state doesn’t trust you as much and neither do car insurance companies.
State laws vary, so the specific penalties a driver can receive for driving under the influence (referred to in some states as driving while intoxicated or DWI) also vary. The penalties can be even more severe (higher fines, longer suspensions) if you were in an accident while driving drunk.
Here are some general penalties that your state may hand out:
- License suspension - The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) states that currently there are 42 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have administrative license suspensions for first-time DUI offenders. The suspension time varies greatly. For instance, in the District of Columbia, it’s between two and 90 days, but a suspension will last 180 days in states like Indiana and Utah.
- Vehicle sanctions - Depending upon your state law your vehicle may also be impounded, immobilized or confiscated if you’re caught driving drunk. Expect to pay stiff fees to get your car back.
- Ignition interlock - All states have some type of ignition interlock law in place. This type of law requires drivers convicted of driving drunk to install a device (interlock) in their vehicles to analyze their breath. If alcohol is detected, then the engine to the vehicle is disabled so the person is unable to drive. In some states, this is mandatory for all convictions, in other states it’s only for repeat DUI offenders.
- Fines and court costs – The fine for being convicted of a DUI varies greatly, but it’s not cheap anywhere. The least you’ll pay is around $1,000, but it can be many more thousands of dollars. If you get a lawyer, and most DUI offenders do to help them navigate the complex court proceedings, it can cost you several more thousands of dollars.
- Criminal record and jail time – If a first offense is a criminal act in your state you’ll get a criminal record that you will now have to explain to future employers. Jail time of one day to one year is mandatory in many states, or you may be mandated to perform community service.
- Driver programs – The court may require you to complete a driver improvement course and/or substance-abuse program -- at your expense.
Insurance rate hike
The state penalties are severe on their own, but others also penalize drivers who have a DUI -- in particular car insurance companies. Car insurance rates can easily double or even triple for a first time DUI offender.
A DUI is considered a major offense, and, thus, makes you a high risk driver to any car insurance carrier. High-risk drivers may be denied coverage by certain insurance providers, especially if you’re in a state that requires you to file a SR-22 or FR-44 to reinstate your license since not all insurers offer this service.
Having fewer insurers to choose from plus the large surcharge that will be assessed by any car insurance company that will offer you a policy makes it much harder to find affordable car insurance rates.
My best advice, if you’ve had too much to drink find any other way home but operating a car. Find a sober friend to drive you, use public transportation or call a cab. You could ruin your own life -- and others -- if you operate a vehicle while impaired.