What’s the penalty if you are arrested for drink driving?

Have you been arrested for drink driving in the US? Find out what potential penalty for DUI you could face if convicted.

Every day in the US, approximately 37 people in the US die in drunk-driving crashes – that’s equivalent to one person every 39 minutes. In 2022 alone, 13,524 people died in alcohol-impaired driving traffic deaths. Drinking and driving costs more than $58 billion in deaths and damages every year.

As shocking as these statistics are, still many people drive while intoxicated. In 2020, 20% of drivers polled by TIRF Road Safety Monitor said they had driven while drunk at least once, and 10% said they did it often. And every year across the US, police arrest police more than 443,000 people on suspicion of drink diving.

It’s important to note that you don’t need to be driving to be arrested for DUI. In many states you can be charged with drink driving if you’re in the driver’s seat of a car, even if it isn’t moving. You can also be charged with DUI, DWI (or a similar offense) if you’re steering a watercraft, moped, motorized scooter, bicycle or lawnmower.

So what happens if you have been arrested for drink driving, or driving under the influence of drugs?

What are the penalties if you are arrested for drink driving?

Simply being charged with drink driving doesn’t mean you will face penalties; you need to be convicted first. But what happens if you are found guilty? What might be the consequences?

The penalties for drink driving vary from state to state and include:

  • Imprisonment
  • Fines
  • Mandatory alcohol assessment and treatment
  • Community service
  • Probation

Your car insurance premiums also usually rise after a DUI conviction. On average, a DUI is shown to increase auto insurance rates by 58.2%, and costs drivers an extra $1,576 a year.

If your job requires you to have a driving license you may find that a conviction for drink driving can impact your career prospects too.

What happens if you are convicted of DUI for the first time?

If it is your first drink or drug driving offense, you won’t usually face a long period of imprisonment in many states, as DUI is treated as a misdemeanor. Some jurisdictions set a minimum amount of jail time (often one or two days) if you are convicted. But the longest jail term that you could face if convicted of DUI for the first time is six months in jail.

However, if there are aggravating factors, for example, a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or you were involved in a serious accident in which people were injured or killed, you may be given a longe sentence.

Often though, if it’s your first conviction for drink driving, you won’t need to do jail time. Instead you may be put on probation and need to pay a fine, do community service, and/or attend alcohol abuse treatment or education.

What’s the penalty for drink driving in your state?

The penalties for drink driving vary from state to state across the US. The easiest way to find out what penalties you might face if convicted for drink driving if it is your first offense is to use our quick DUI penalty calculator:

DIU penalty calculator
Been arrested for DUI? Find out what kind of penalties you may face if you are convicted.

What happens if you are convicted of DUI more than once?

If it’s not your first conviction for DUI, you can expect a harsher punishment, and potentially a longer prison sentence.

However if, when courts look back at your record over a particular lookback period (usually 10 years), they discover multiple DUI convictions, what might have been charged as a misdemeanor can be elevated to a felony, which will obviously impact the potential sentence you receive.

Other aggravating factors that could elevate your DUI charge from misdemeanour to felony include:

  • Your blood alcohol content
  • If you caused bodily injuries to another person
  • Whether there was a minor in the vehicle
  • If you were driving while your licence was suspended

What’s the difference between DUI and DWI?

Depending on the state you are arrested in, and what you have been arrested for, you may be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). So what is the difference between DUI and DWI?

You can be charged with DUI if you are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These drugs might be over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs or illegal drugs.

You can be charged with DWI if you are suspected of driving while intoxicated or otherwise impaired. The exact definitions vary from state to state.

You may also, depending on your state, be charged with operating under the influence (OUI), operating while intoxicated (OWI) or driving while ability impaired (DWAI) instead of DUI or DWI.

What’s the DUI blood alcohol concentration limit?

If you are arrested on suspicion of drink driving, the police will ask to measure your blood alcohol level (BAC). This will decide whether you should be charged or not. BAC is usually determined by a breath, blood or urine test.

When it comes to driving drunk, the vast majority of states have set the legal blood alcohol concentration limit at 0.08%. However, in Utah the BAC limit is 0.05%. In many states, penalties can increase if your BAC is over 0.15%.

When can you be arrested for drug driving?

After alcohol, the drug found most frequently in the blood of drivers involved in crashes is marijuana. According to data, your risk of involvement in a motor vehicle accident doubles after smoking cannabis.

So what happens if you are arrested for drug driving? Like drink driving, your blood will usually be tested to see how much of the drug is in your system. If you are found to be over the legal limit you can be charged with DUI, DWI, OUI, OWI or DWAI.

What’s the legal limit for cannabis when driving?

When testing for marijuana, police will measure the level of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in your blood. The current legal limit for THC is just 2 micrograms per litre of blood. To put this into perspective, just one puff on a cannabis joint can produce an immediate blood THC concentration of between 7 and 18 micrograms – as much as nine times the legal limit.

There’s no fixed time for how long cannabis stays traceable in your blood for driving checks – this can vary based on your body chemistry, genetics, how often you smoke, the strength of the cannabis and the sensitivities of the testing method. If you smoke regularly, your body can retain the compounds for longer than an occasional user. So, as a precaution, it’s never wise to drive after you have smoked cannabis.

What other drugs can you be charged with DUI for?

Other recreational drugs you may be charged with DUI after using include cocaine, MDMA, LSD, ketamine, heroin/diamorphine metabolite and methylamphetamine.

You can also be charged with DUI after taking over-the-counter or prescribed medication. Licensed medications include benzodiazepines (clonazepam, oxazepam, diazepam, lorazepam, temazepam), methadone, morphine and amphetamine.

What are the risks of drink or drug driving?

There is a good reason why there are laws to prevent drink and drug driving. As well as the risk of being charged and convicted, research shows that you are more likely to be involved in an accident if you are under the influence.

Marijuana users show an increase in lane weaving, poor reaction time, and altered attention to the road. Some prescription medicines, including benzodiazepines and opioids, can cause drowsiness, dizziness, and impair your thinking and judgment. Studies have even found that being under the influence opioids while driving can double your risk of having a crash. And drivers who have used cocaine or methamphetamine can be more aggressive and reckless.

Read our resources on drink driving

We have a number of articles on drink driving. You can read more advice here:

The information in our DUI penalty calculator is taken from DUI Laws by State.

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