Vehicle Fatalities: The Consequences of Drinking and Driving

There are approximately 6 million car accidents in the United States every year, leading to more than 30,000 fatalities. 40% of accidents that result in deaths are linked to alcohol consumption, highlighting the risk that drinking and driving carries.

Driving under the influence (DUI) can also be known as driving while intoxicated, operating under the influence, driving while visibly repaired, or operating while impaired. The official terminology is dependent on the specific state.

If you want to learn more about drunk driving and the legal consequences that people face, then this blog post is for you. Here, we will highlight what exactly DUI means and the range of different consequences that can apply (depending on the specific nature of the incident). We will also highlight what you should do if accused of driving under the influence.

What Does DUI Mean?

Every state in the US has its own definition of driving under the influence, which informs drivers of what is illegal, what must be proven by prosecutors, and what the consequences are. That said, every state follows the same basic structure for defining DUI.

It should be noted that every person who is charged with a DUI is presumed innocent until proven guilty. If guilt is established, the specific penalty will vary state by state. Aggravating circumstances will also be factored in, such as injuries.

When it comes to differences between states, one example is whether or not the car is in motion. In some states, it is illegal to drive while under the influence, with the emphasis here on ‘drive’. In order to be convicted, the individual must have had the car in motion.

In other states, however, this is not the case. Rather, the act of ‘being in actual physical control’ of the car under the influence is prohibited. Therefore, a DUI is still possible even if the car was never actually moved; effectively, an arrest is still possible if the individual was in a position to put the car in gear.

The majority of states in the US have 2 different types of DUI laws. These are:

  • Impairment laws
  • Per se laws

This means that a person can be convicted of a DUI based on being impaired by alcohol or drugs, or for being ‘per se’ under the influence based on the concentration of drugs or alcohol in their system.

What Are the Consequences?

Now that we know the different definitions of DUI, let’s look at some of the possible consequences.

First-Offense Convictions

In the majority of states, a person’s first offense DUI is regarded as a misdemeanor. This means that it is punishable by no more than a year in jail.

In some states, the maximum jail time for first-offense convictions is short (such as 30 days in New Jersey). There are also states, such as Pennsylvania, where the first offense does not carry the possibility of any jail time.

By speaking to a qualified lawyer in your state, such as this criminal defense attorney, you will better understand the rules that apply to you.

Repeat Offenses

In a number of states, second and subsequent DUIs will result in gradually longer jail sentences. For example, a state where the minimum sentence for a first offense is 5 days may have a minimum sentence of 10 days for a second offense and 60 days for a third offense.

Other states, then, will set the same maximum jail time for first, second, third, and subsequent DUI offenses. An example here is Colorado, where the maximum jail time for the first three offenses is the same (1 year).

Aggravating Circumstances

As noted above, aggravating circumstances affect the amount of jail time an individual has to serve for a DUI conviction. For example, states may have more severe punishments for DUI offenders who had a high blood alcohol concentration at the time of their arrest. If a DUI incident resulted in an accident, likewise the punishment may be higher.

In cases where a DUI is classified as a felony, prison sentences of several years may be issued. Examples of felonies in this instance include if the individual has a number of prior DUI convictions or if they injured or killed someone.

Fines and Suspension of License

In the majority of cases, DUI convictions also lead to fines. Again, these can vary significantly by state. In a majority of states, a first offense carries a fine of somewhere in the region of $500 to $2,000, which generally increases with subsequent convictions.

A person convicted of a DUI also faces the penalty of having their license suspended, often for a substantial length of time. The length of suspension is typically tied to the number of prior convictions a person has.

In some cases, a hardship license is granted. This allows a person to drive in essential cases (such as to and from work) while serving their DUI suspension.

What to Do When Facing With a Drinking and Driving Charge

If you have been accused of driving under the influence, the first step to take is to contact a lawyer with relevant experience in this field. An experienced local lawyer will advise on the specific rules that are applicable in your state and the kinds of consequences that you face.

Importantly, they will also be able to help you to explore potential defenses. Like this blog post on the common consequences of drinking and driving? Be sure to check out our other informative articles on a wide range of interesting topics.

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