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A DUI is a driving under the influence charge or offense. A DUI is a criminal offense resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle to the point where the driver is incapable of operating the vehicle safely. In some states and countries, a DUI is known as a DWI, or driving while intoxicated offense. Although typically associated with alcohol use, DUIs can result from a wide variety of drugs, legal or illegal, if the substance is being misused. DUIs are also not limited to automobiles. Depending on the state, driving any motorized vehicle (and in some cases certain non-motorized vehicles) under the influence may result in a DUI.
Driving under the influence of any substance is extremely dangerous to the driver, all of the passengers, and everyone else out on the roads. Whenever you get behind the wheel, you are taking on a tremendous responsibility. Under the ideal conditions, a vehicle is still a potentially deadly weapon that can easily kill or maim in an instant, not to mention the potential for property damage.
Anytime that you use a substance that can alter or impair your functioning, you are reducing your ability to operate a vehicle safely and increasing the likelihood that you will be involved in an accident. When you get behind the wheel in this state, you are putting yourself and others in danger.
Every state has a unique set of DUI/DWI laws, which means that the punishment for a DUI offense varies greatly. In general, punishments include fines, suspension of drivers’ license or driving privileges, community service, treatment/therapy, and jail time. Most states have an escalating set of penalties, where the penalty for each successive DUI is more severe than the one before.
Courts can order you to pay a monetary fine as a result of a DUI. While the amount varies tremendously from state to state, and between the first and successive DUIs, most range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
Depending on the state, courts have great flexibility in placing restrictions on your driving rights as a result of a DUI. Some of the most common restrictions include banning you from driving outside of to and from work, requiring you to breathe into a breathalyzer device before entering your car or starting the ignition to make sure you aren’t intoxicated, and complete loss of license. In general, these penalties only last a certain amount of time, but some can be permanent.
As part of your sentence, courts may impose community service hours. In some cases, you will get to choose how you spend those hours, and in other cases your community service activity will be dictated to you. Examples of community service may include highway cleanup, working at a soup kitchen, or cleaning cages at an animal shelter.
Courts in many states can either mandate that you attend substance abuse treatment or therapy or give you the option of attending in exchange for reduced penalties in other areas. Examples of the type of treatment or therapy you may be required to attend include detox, treatment in an inpatient or outpatient facility, entry into a methadone treatment program, or a 12-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
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States vary tremendously in the amount of jail time courts can impose for a DUI/DWI offense. Some states mandate sentences of several years for successive DUIs, and others have no mandated sentences for DUI at all. In general, jail time for a first DUI is a few days, and jail time for a second DUI is 1-5 months. Because first and second DUIs are not considered felonies in most states, this jail time will most likely be served in a county jail. In states where subsequent DUIs are considered felonies, this jail time might be served in a state prison.
A DUI will go on your criminal record, which means it will show up on all of your background checks, possibly impacting your employment, education, and future criminal sentences. In most states, first and second DUI offenses are not considered felonies, and will eventually be expunged from your criminal record after a certain number of years. In some states, subsequent DUI offenses are considered felonies and will never leave your criminal record.
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As serious as the legal consequences of a DUI are, for many the personal and financial consequences are even more severe. Many companies will fire employees who get a DUI, and many more will not hire a potential employee who has a DUI on their record. This is especially true when driving is a job requirement. Some schools punish, even expel, students who get a DUI, or at least not admit them. Driving restrictions, especially a suspended license, really impact the social and personal life of the person with them, as can the stigma of having a DUI. One of the hardest consequences for many is having to explain to their friends and family that they have a DUI and how they got it.
In strictly monetary terms, the cost of a DUI is staggering. In addition to any fines, there are other legal fees, bail, attorney’s fees, court costs, and incarceration costs. You will also have to pay attorney’s fees for your lawyer, DUI school charges, and for the installation of a car ignition interlock device. After everything is said and done, you may have spent more than $20,000 on a single DUI, and those costs go up with each successive DUI. Even worse, those are all short-term costs. Car insurance costs skyrocket when someone has a DUI, which can result in tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. The loss of income that may result from losing a job or not being able to find a new job could even cost more.
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Fortunately, DUIs are generally easy to avoid. There are plenty alternatives to avoid getting behind the wheel while under the influence.
When you go out in a group of friends, identify one person who is willing to commit to staying completely sober (no drinks at all) and will able drive everyone home. It can be helpful to take turns with this role.
If your home and destination are served by a subway, bus, or train, use them. With public transportation, no one has to get behind the wheel.
Although this will be an extra expense, it will be worth it. The cost of a cab or other ride is a tiny fraction of the cost of a DUI, especially if you split the fare between your group. Even if you have to leave your car in a tow away zone, the cost of getting your car out of impound is a small price to pay.
Of course, there is always the option of staying sober. No matter what you think the possibilities of a night are, they are absolutely not worth the potential consequences.
For more information on treatment options, contact a treatment provider today.
Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.
Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional
A survivor of addiction himself, David Hampton is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach (CPRC) and a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC).
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