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What is a DUI and how will it affect me?

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There is nothing cool about driving under the influence. Not only does it put you and other drivers at risk of injury or death, driving intoxicated is a serious crime that often results in equally severe punishment. That punishment may mean a DUI charge, fines, jail time, and even a drastic hike in auto insurance premium.

So, what does DUI mean and what will happen if you get one? We’ll cover everything you need to know in this article.

What does DUI mean?

The DUI definition is simple: driving under the influence. Depending on the state, the terms DUI and DWI may be used interchangeably, and may refer specifically to drugs or alcohol or both.

Regardless of where you live, driving under the influence is a serious crime and should be avoided at all costs. It will be your state laws that determine what warrants a DUI charge and the corresponding punishment. 

For example, if you are in Alabama and are under 21, with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .02 or more, you are considered to be driving under the influence. If you are over the age of 21 and have a BAC of .08 or more, you are considered to be driving under the influence. Most states have similar BAC limits.  

The minimum drinking age in the US is age 21, but driving under the influence is illegal at any age, in any state. 

How is a DUI different from a DWI?

While DUI stands for “driving under the influence,” DWI stands for either “driving while intoxicated’ or “driving while impaired.” You may be wondering, “isn’t driving under the influence the same thing as driving while intoxicated?”

Essentially, yes. But your state laws determine exactly what DUI and DWI mean in a court of law. 

A DUI offense typically occurs when someone has alcohol in their bloodstream that results in a BAC level above legal limits. A DWI offense, in some states, means the exact same thing as a DUI. In other states, a DWI may occur when someone is driving while impaired by drugs, as opposed to alcohol. 

In Texas for example, a DUI and DWI are two separate offenses. Both charges are very serious, but a DWI charge carries more severe punishment. But in Missouri, a DUI offense and a DWI offense are considered the same. 

What happens when you get a DUI?

The first thing that will happen after getting a DUI is immediate regret. Putting it bluntly, there is never an excuse to drive under the influence and the negative, long-lasting consequences far outweigh any temporary enjoyment leading up to the decision. 

Aside from regret, there are several things that may happen depending on your state and level of impairment. 

Will you lose your car?

Depending on the state, and assuming your DUI did not result in the death of another person or persons, the police officer may allow a family member or friend to pick up the vehicle. In some states, like Washington, it is a law that vehicle impoundment is mandatory upon a DUI arrest. Upon release (which depends on the severity of the charges), you will be permitted to pay a fee to get your car out of impound. 

But, will you be allowed to drive it now that you’ve gotten a DUI? 

Will you lose your license?

In some states, a DUI arrest results in automatic suspension of driver’s license, even if you are later found not guilty. This means someone else will need to drive your vehicle out of impound. If the DUI resulted in the serious injury or death of another, the car will be logged in as evidence and will not be permitted to be removed from impound. 

In most states who have implied consent laws, the license will only be suspended if your BAC was over .15 and if no one was harmed. However, if you refuse a breathalyzer test at the time of traffic stop, your license will be immediately suspended and will remain suspended for longer. 

If you are convicted of a DUI, the amount of time you will lose your license will depend on your state as well as the number of previous DUI convictions.  

How is your driving record affected?

A DUI is a guaranteed way to negatively affect your driving record. In fact, a DUI is considered such a serious offense that in most states, it stays on your driving record for five to ten years. In Alaska, a DUI stays on a driving record for life. 

Driving record is one of the factors insurance companies review when determining your auto insurance rates. A DUI on your driving record makes you a higher risk to insure than someone with a clean driving record. Unfortunately, your auto insurance rates will spike as a result. 

Will you face fines/jail time?

It is likely that you will have fines, jail time, or possibly even both after getting convicted of a DUI. When it comes to a DUI, facing fines are a near certainty. Every US state has fine punishments for DUI convictions, but they vary by state.

Some states like West Virginia, Rhode Island and Michigan have fines starting as low as $100 while other states, like California, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Oregon impose fines starting at $1000 or higher. Keep in mind, that is the low end of their range for fines. In Oregon, fines go up to over $6000 per offense. 

Depending on the severity of the DUI offense, the number of prior DUI’s you have had, and the state you live, you may be facing some jail time. In states like Alabama, Hawaii, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, there is no minimum jail time required for a DUI, but that doesn’t mean you won’t face any time. 

States like Alaska, Arizona and Washington set a minimum jail time per offense of 24 hours up to five days. Other states, like Tennessee, have broader minimums of 48 hours up to 11 months. 

How much does a DUI cost?

The cost of a DUI involves much more than whatever fines you’re required to pay. Expect costly legal fees, car insurance rate hikes, traffic school and/or substance abuse courses, DMV (Department of Motor Vehicle) fees, towing and impound fees and possibly bail fees. Each fee varies greatly depending on the individual circumstance. 

For the sake of simplicity, we are providing average cost information assuming a first offense DUI. In this survey, the average respondent paid the following for their first DUI offense:

  • $1900 in attorney fees
  • $1100 in fines
  • $360 for traffic school or substance abuse courses
  • $260 in DMV fees
  • $170 on court-ordered ignition interlock devices
  • $170 on towing and impound fees
  • $150 on bail
  • $800 in insurance premium increase

Add all that together and the average cost for a first offense DUI is $4910. It is safe to say, you are likely to face significant financial impact as a result of a DUI. 

The takeaway 

  • Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI) results in a variety of harsh consequences, depending on the state, severity, and prior record of DUI’s. 
  • DUI’s will result in auto insurance rate hikes. 
  • You may lose both your car and your driver’s license when arrested for a DUI. 

Driving under the influence is no light matter. Getting behind the wheel after a few drinks might seem like an okay decision at the time, but in reality, it is always a bad decision. Each day, almost 30 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes. 

If you end up being someone who causes one of those deaths, the choice to drink and drive will impact you, your family and the family of the deceased for the rest of your lives. Even if you do not kill or seriously injure someone, you will face serious consequences. It is safe to say, driving under the influence is simply not worth it.

Ashlee Tilford

Ashlee is an MBA business professional by day and a dynamic freelance writer by night. Covering industries like banking, finance, and health & wellness, her work has been published on sites like bankrate.com, thesimpledollar.com, interest.com, womens-health.com and more. Ashlee specializes in personal finance and is passionate about helping others achieve greater financial freedom.

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