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DUI: Definition, Laws, and Consequences

A Serious Issue

Choosing to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is, in some people’s minds, one of the worst decisions someone can make.  And that opinion isn’t without merit;  Drunk driving is a costly mistake, both in finances and human life.  According to the CDC, Every day, 29 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This is one death every 50 minutes. The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $44 billion, and In 2016, more than 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.3 That’s one percent of the 111 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year.   

DUI Laws

While the specifics on the law vary from state to state, it’s important to note that driving while intoxicated is illegal in all 50 states. So even if you manage to get lucky and get caught drunk driving before actually causing injury, death, or property damage, you will still find yourself hit with heavy fines, jail time, trials and court fees, and most likely a felony record (though in some cases you may get off with a misdemeanor).  The severity of the penalty depends on the outcome of the incident, the laws in your state, and whether this is your first offense or a repeat or multiple offense.  Different states may refer to this crime differently. Sometimes it’s called Driving Under the Influence (DUI), Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), or Operating Under the Influence (OUI). While some states may have laws that permit a certain amount of alcohol to be in your system (measured as a blood alcohol level), others have a zero tolerance policy (meaning any amount of alcohol found in your blood can lead to a charge).  Keep in mind, if a certain blood alcohol level is permitted, this only applies to drivers over the age of 21.  Any driver caught drinking under age will be charged with that offense plus a DUI, because it is against the law for them to have been drinking at all.  

What Happens when you get a DUI/DWI/OWI:

As we mentioned earlier, the laws surrounding DUIs vary from state to state, and the outcome of DUI charges depend heavily on the nature of the incident.  Is this the first time you’ve been caught?  Did you just get pulled over or stopped at a checkpoint, or did you cause damage?  Did you injur or kill someone? All of these factors will weigh differently in your penalty, but be assured all will weigh against you.  Upon getting pulled over, you may be subjected to a breathalyzer test, or another form of sobriety test.  

First Offense:

Generally, the first time you are caught driving under the influence, you may find yourself on probation and slapped with a misdemeanor offense.  However, the court can still order you to serve time, community service, put you on house arrest, heavily fine you, or charge you with a felony depending on the circumstances of your arrest (such as the amount of damage or injury you caused, whether there was a child in the car, and whether you were caught with an open container of alcohol in your vehicle).  In virtually every state, you can expect a suspension of your license, even as a first time offender.  

Repeat/Multiple DUIs:

If you are a repeat offender, it is almost always considered a felony.  Your jail time is likely to rise to two, five, or even ten years or more.  The fines levied against you can soar into the tens of thousands, and you will almost definitely immediately be arrested.  Some states have statutes of limitations for how long a period of time can go by for multiple DUIs to add up (for example, more than one DUI within a ten year period that can reset after that time), but others have “lifetime look back” policies that mean any DUI you receive throughout your lifetime will count towards your total.  

Depending on the number of offenses, you may find your license suspended for anywhere from 3 years to your lifetime. The best way to avoid this kind of situation is to be responsible by not drinking at all when you plan to be behind the wheel.