When You Drink & Drive: DUI Laws & Penalties

From tickets and jail time, to serious crashes, injuries, and even the risk of death, the consequences of drunk driving can be catastrophic. And for those drivers across the country who are caught intoxicated while behind the wheel, it could mean some very serious trouble.

Here are a few of the harshest and most costly DUI laws and penalties in the country.

The Law: Does it Work?

There has been much debate in recent years concerning whether the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) tolerance level is low enough when it comes to drunk drivers. In 2004, all 50 U.S. states lowered the legal BAC level from 0.10 to 0.08. While this might not seem like a lot, statistics suggest otherwise. In fatal automobile accidents when at least one of the drivers was driving under the influence of alcohol, 92.5 percent of those intoxicated drivers had a BAC level of 0.10 or higher, while drivers who had a BAC level between 0.05 and 0.08 only accounted for 2.7 percent of those fatal accidents.

Statistically, the difference in motor skills and decision making is impaired significantly when a driver’s BAC level exceeds 0.08. So would lowering the legal limit to 0.05 make any difference? “DUI attorneys typically say that short of permanent incarceration, it is nearly impossible to stop people who habitually drink excessively from driving if they’ve made up their minds to do so,” says Gary Biller, the president of the National Motorist Association.

Types of Punishment

The types of punishment the law enacts on drunk drivers can be harsh, yet not unwarranted. For example, in Florida, first offenders can face up to nine months in prison, fines between $500 and $2,000, a suspended license for up to a year, and an interlock ignition device installed into the offender's vehicle. Furthermore, driving tests are often required in order to prove an understanding of the rules of the road.

While state laws differ when it comes to DUI penalties, they are all harsh and can make an offender's life a lot more difficult.

Repeat Offenders

As offenses add up, so do fines and jail time. Getting one DUI is difficult enough, but getting multiple can drive one's life into a hole. In Massachusetts, for instance, a second offense can cost a maximum of 30 months in jail and up to $10,000 in fines. An offender's license can also be suspended for two years, and an interlock ignition device might be installed into the offender's vehicle thereafter.

For third-time offenders, the penalties only increase. Jail time rises to a maximum of five years with a fine of up to $15,000 and a suspended license for eight years.

These laws may seem harsh, but they are designed to keep drunk drivers off the roads for good. When drivers understand the potential serious consequences of drinking and driving, the hope is that they will realize the risk is too great — for their lives, the lives of others, their freedom, and their wallet.