Drunk driving has been called a nationwide epidemic and the public has supported increasingly harsh penalties. The growing recognition and reaction to the dangers posed by intoxicated drivers means drunk driving consequences can be in a state of flux depending on where the driver is arrested.
In general, jail time for DWI or DUI offenses are becoming more common, sometimes even in the case of first-time offenders. This trend towards stricter laws is happening across the U.S. as a result of lobbying by groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
Starting in the 1980s, drunk driving consequences started becoming more severe, and the last states to raise their drinking age, South Dakota and Wyoming, did so in 1988. The blood alcohol concentration limit was lowered to the .08 standard and under-21 laws prohibited any alcohol consumption by minor drivers.
Now that these laws have been standardized across the U.S., much of the new drunk driving legislation has focused on the problem of habitual offenders. Penalties like increased fines, stricter license revocation and mandatory jail time have made repeat drunk driving consequences more severe.
Even those who are not habitual drunk drivers can find themselves affected by stricter drunk driving consequences. Attorney’s fees and court costs have increased and, even if the driver’s license is returned (even first-time offenders can have lengthy license suspensions), the car insurance policy can be cancelled or the insurer may move the driver into a higher-risk classification. The driver may also be required to attend classes.
Even if a driver is not the cause of an accident, they can be liable for any damages if alcohol is detected in their system. This liability could run into the millions of dollars. Even if the BAC of the driver is below .08, it is still possible to be arrested or held liable for driving while impaired.
All of these costs and inconveniences pale in comparison to the ultimate drunk driving consequences: causing the injury or death of a driver, passenger or pedestrian. In one sobering study, commissioned by MADD, researchers found that, on average, a drunk driver kills someone in the U.S. every 40 minutes.