The True Cost of a DUI
Driving while impaired by alcohol or other drugs is illegal everywhere in the civilized world. It’s known under different labels — DUI (driving under the influence), DWI (driving while impaired), ID (impaired driving) and DD (drunk driving). Whatever the term, DUI consequences can be devastating, and the cost of drunk driving can be far higher than most people realize.
DUI statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that an average of 28 people die every day in America as the result of drunk driving crashes and that roughly one in three people will be involved in a DUI incident at some point in their lives. Most will be a victim of drunk driving.
Lives are forever altered by people who drive while under the influence. MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, reported that 10,839 people died in 2009 in alcohol-related vehicle incidents — that’s one every fifty minutes — and the rate keeps increasing each year.
DUI charges and related offenses account for the greatest workload in the court system, and DUI penalties are constantly increasing in an effort to combat these tragic scenarios. Sentences handed out for impaired driving range from fines of five hundred dollars to jail terms of many years.
But fines and jail sentences are only part of the cost of a DUI. The true cost of drunk driving — DUI consequences, charges, penalties and paybacks — are much larger in context. They include the personal costs of the convicted offender, the civic costs of the judicial system and the human costs to all those who are affected. The real expense of a DUI extends to society as a whole.
A recent report released by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) shows that drunk driving costs across the United States exceed $132 billion per year. This data was compiled from court records, insurance companies, statistical tracking institutes and government agencies. They qualified the report by noting the amount may far exceed this figure by taking into consideration the long-term, compounding factors of human devastation.
Most people think the principal costs of drunk driving are limited to the fines, repairs and retributions associated with the actual incident. These are the DUI statistics most commonly reported. However, the true costs — the big picture of the costs of a DUI — are much larger than the personal cost to the offender. The wider and far more extensive costs extend to the society and families affected by DUI consequences as well as the massive toll paid in human suffering.
Let’s take a look at the elements in the true cost of a DUI using three categories of personal, civic and human costs.
The Personal Cost of a DUI
The costs of a DUI that impact the individual include:
Roadside Costs: The vehicles of DUI offenders are normally towed from the offense scene and impounded for a certain length of time. A week to three months is common. A normal tow bill will average $100, and impound storage fees are often $30 a day. One tow and one week will set the DUI offender back $300. One tow and one month will cost $1000.
Fines: All jurisdictions have minimum fines for DUI charges. These can start at $500 and many begin their assessment at over $1,000 for a first-time offense with increments going upwards of $5,000 for multiple and repeat offenders. A hefty fine is often accompanied by other punishments such as probation, community service work hours and incarceration.
Bail: Almost all DUI charges stem from the offender being caught in the act and arrested behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. The offender is normally taken back to the police station for a breathalyzer test and then put in front of the court who decides under what conditions the accused drunk driver will be released. This often requires posting monetary bail, which can amount to anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Court Costs: In addition to fines, DUI offenders are often assessed court costs for the time they consume in the justice system as the result of their illegal actions. Court costs range from a token fee of $50 and into the hundreds, depending on the jurisdiction and the precedents set. These are normally meant to act as an additional financial deterrent to future drunk drivers.
Remedial Punishment and Control: Those who have committed DUIs are often required by the courts to install interlocking ignition devices on their vehicles as part of their probationary and remedial integration back into restoring their driving privileges. These preventive devices are mechanically and electronically integrated into the vehicle and require the operator to provide a breath sample to the instrument prior to starting the vehicle. If an unacceptable level of alcohol is detected, the vehicle is automatically disabled for a specific duration of time. The cost for installing an interlocking ignition device runs from $1,500 to $2,500.
Remedial Driving Education: Today, most courts require a DUI offender to undergo mandatory education and training as part of their correctional program. “DUI School” fees can range from $1,000 to $3,000. This is assessed on a variable scale depending on the length of time that retraining is prescribed. Multiple offenders have a longer re-integration time and therefore pay a higher fee to satisfactorily pass the process before being re-issued a driving permit.
Alcohol Assessment and Counselling: Part of a retraining and remedial program is a required professional assessment of the offender in order for the system to understand the cause, nature and extent of the offender’s personal situation that led to the DUI incident. Professional assessment and counselling fees can easily exceed $100 per hour and may total $1,000 or more before the person is qualified to enroll in the remedial driver education program.
Administration Fees: It’s long held that driving is a privilege to members of a free and mobile society, not a right. With privileges comes responsibility and accountability. DUI offenses place a higher administrative burden on the system and therefore are often levied additional administrative fees that go along with re-instating the offender’s driver’s license. These suspension administrative fees can be costly. It’s common for these fees to reach or exceed $1,000.
Jail Sentence: The actual cost of being sent to jail is difficult to put a number on. Jail terms as a DUI consequence can start at three months and go upward into years if the incident resulted in a death or grievous bodily harm to others. Most jurisdictions have mandatory minimal jail terms for multiple convictions, and some assess the costs of incarceration back on the offender in a daily or monthly fee.
Legal Fees: Many lawyers specialize in DUI cases. This is not surprising, as DUIs make up the largest per-case load in the justice system. Fees for a simple representation for a first time offense start at $1,000 and quickly go upward depending on whether there is a trial challenge to the charge or if there are other charges stemming from the DUI offense, such as multiple victims or property damage.
Insurance Costs: It’s universally held that no insurance company will pay a convicted DUI offender for the damage their drunk driving actions caused. Insurance policies may pay other drivers or incidental victims of the DUI offender for their losses in property, injury, time or emotional compensation, but they’ll then turn and collect these costs directly from the offender.
Increased Insurance Fees: Though insurance companies will not pay an offender for losses in the primary DUI incident, they may prefer to continue offering future insurance policies to the individual. This will come at an increased cost, and it’s common for that to be four to six times the original policy fee. Therefore, an original insurance fee with a clean driving record that was fixed at $1,500 per year could now be $6,000-$9,000.
Insurance Cancellation: Repeat DUI offenders may find that insurance companies flag them as high-risk policies and place them in premium categories that are practically unaffordable. They may extend this risk assessment to the person’s use of other vehicles such as operating friends’, relatives’, and/or company vehicles required for their transportation to and from work, as well as being insured while driving as a condition of employment. Some insurance companies may flat-out refuse to sell a policy to someone whose recorded driving behavior exhibits a risky pattern.
Lawsuits: Drunk drivers often find themselves involved in additional lawsuits stemming from their DUI charges. This is over and above any other monetary assessment by the courts and administrative agencies. A lawsuit for incidental damages or deaths, whether brought by the families, insurance companies or other interested parties, can reach millions of dollars in punitive and legal costs.
Restitution: DUI offenders are regularly required to pay for damages done by their drunk driving actions. Writing off a new car may present a thirty-thousand-dollar bill. Writing off two or more vehicles in the same incident caused by a DUI offense will compound according to the value. Add in damage to property like fences, buildings, landscape or civic infrastructure, and the cost as the result of a DUI may easily exceed $100,000.
Lost Income: Being caught for a DUI offense can be a time-consuming process, never mind an employment-losing incident. Many offenders are held in jail immediately after being arrested on DUI charges and are taken to court the next day. They may lose that day’s wages. Then they will be required to make other court appearances, usually during work hours. Additionally, and depending on the nature of the job, many employers will terminate a worker who’s been arrested, charged and/or convicted of a drunk driving offense. This is virtually impossible to price when it comes to loss of income and attempting to re-enter the job market.
Alternate Transportation: This may seem a small consequence from a DUI charge given the huge dollar value associated with loss of income, loss of insurance, repayment of damages and the cost of lawsuit, but most people involved in DUI offenses lose their license and vehicle. This forces them to find alternate transportation like rides from friends, taxis, buses, trains and whatever other ride arrangements their community may offer. This can be especially expensive for those living in remote locations.
The Civic Cost of a DUI
The true costs of drunk driving and DUI charges extend far beyond the personal side of DUI penalties to the offender. The costs extend outward into the community and to society as a whole. Here are some of the issues that most people don’t realize when assessing the overall impact drunk driving cases have on society.
The justice system is composed of a number of layers, all of which have to be funded through public money. This funding generally comes from taxes such as income tax, sales tax, property tax and luxury tax. However, many jurisdictions are now offloading the costs directly back on the drunk driver.
Court Employee Costs: The law courts are a complex and expensive system to administer and operate. They employ many people in many roles. Judges, prosecutors, public defense attorneys, clerks, sheriffs, bailiffs, recorders and transcriptionists all are paid wages according to their level of expertise. Depending on the area, most court employees make $45,000 to $60,000 per year, with attorneys making well over $100,000 and judges exceeding $200,000.
Court Infrastructure Costs: Courthouses are expensive buildings to operate. They require public funding to construct, maintain, supply utilities to and repair. Most courthouses are located on prime real estate in the community centers and occupy space that could be otherwise used by tax-paying private businesses. Courthouses also require state-of-the-art computerized information systems that must be purchased and operated with public funds.
Responder Costs: Police, fire rescue and ambulance services also are publicly funded. Usually, all three responsive departments will attend the scene of a drunk driver caused motor vehicle incident. Police report DUI statistics that indicate DUI charges are one of the highest time per case workloads. Drunk driving requires law enforcement resources in order to process the offense criminally.
Correctional Costs: All drunk drivers are systematically processed through various levels of the justice system, which includes correctional personnel and facilities. Some convicted drunk drivers, such as first-time DUI offenders, may be given probation. This may include community service work as a punitive measure and an offset attempt at recovering costs. Regardless, the administering of probation requires supervision costs. Repeat DUI offenders may be incarcerated and be placed under supervision of a graduated release program through publicly funded parole.
Medical Costs: This is one of the highest overall costs resulting from the actions of driving under the influence. Many DUI incidents result in crashes causing injury not just to the impaired driver, but to passengers of the offender’s vehicle and other vehicles, as well as to pedestrians and bystanders. Some injuries may be minor and require treatment at the scene. Some injuries may be major and require surgery and hospitalization. Some injuries may result in permanent disability. And some injuries caused by drunk driving may result in death. It is nearly impossible to put a dollar value on the total medical costs caused by DUI.
Property Costs: Vehicles are typically damaged during the incident, as is any property struck by the driver. Motor vehicle incidents that occur in major thoroughfares can tie up traffic for hours and send a chain reaction of ramifications that cause a loss of time, business interruption and considerable inconvenience to other parties affected by the actions of the impaired driver.
The Human Cost of a DUI
Costs attributed to DUI consequences far exceed a monetary value. Punitive, rehabilitative and preventive costs can somewhat be measured in bills and payments. However, some impacts of a DUI offense can be massive in current and future terms. Effects to be considered are:
Emotional Devastation: Parties involved in drunk driving incidents can face life-long emotional damage resulting from the shock, stress and psychological impact. Some are removed from the workforce and unable to return. Some suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can be unrecognized and untreated. This leads to all sorts of devastating actions, including withdrawing from society and even leading to suicide.
Altered Lives: Furthering the emotional devastation, many lives can be permanently altered as the result of a DUI incident, including that of the offender. Loss of mobility, loss of employment, loss of possessions and loss of life are all costs associated with a DUI incident that cannot be categorically measured in money. The altering of one life as the result of DUI consequences often creates a domino effect that topples onto other lives.
Loss of Reputation: A person’s reputation can be the most valuable asset they have and can be permanently damaged or destroyed by one single incident of driving while under the influence. Many employers see DUI as a serious breach of an employee’s trust and character and may terminate a worker for being caught for impaired driving. This carries on to references for future jobs and can become a black cloud that permanently shadows a person’s future prospects.
Loss of Dignity: Shame, guilt and remorse also haunt a person who’s been arrested and convicted on DUI charges. The human cost of mental damage and recovery from a DUI conviction varies with the individual, but regardless, there is a cost carried forward that is impossible to sum.
Loss of Freedom: Physical incarceration as the result of a DUI conviction is generally reserved for the most serious incidents such as chronic, repeat offenders and situations where severe injury or death have resulted. But freedom can be lost in other ways, such as the prohibition and suspension of driving privileges, the impounding of a vehicle and one of the most serious ramifications of a DUI conviction — a criminal record. With a criminal record for drunk driving, some countries will refuse entry to the offender, which can permanently prevent international travel for business and pleasure.
The Cost of a First-Time DUI Scenario
The majority of DUI charges are first-time offenders who make a mistake and never go on to re-offend. A simple scenario where a normally responsible individual has one too many drinks and is pulled over and arrested by the police can result in a three-month suspension and these typical costs:
There’s a difference in perception and a considerable difference in cost to a repeat in DUI offenses. Here is a scenario estimating the cost where a repeat offender causes a serious, multiple-vehicle crash that results in injuries:This is a very realistic scenario for a first-time offender who had a slip in judgment and made a mistake for which they feel remorse. As a result of being caught, they are forced to pay a significant cost for unintended actions. Most societies recognize a single DUI as a forgivable offense — provided the offender learns from the mistake and goes on to lead a productive and positive life.
The Cost of a Repeat DUI With Damage and Injuries Scenario
DUI offenders have no intention to cause damage or injury to themselves or others when they make the decision to operate a motor vehicle while under the impairment of alcohol or drugs.The true cost of a DUI is difficult — nearly impossible — to put a total dollar value on. It varies from individual to individual, from case to case, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
By taking a realistic look at the true cost of a DUI, this information may cause individuals to think clearly about what the DUI consequences can be, not just on DUI charges and DUI penalties, but in the overall true cost of drunk driving.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or has been involved in DUIs, contact 12 Keys Rehab for more information on our individualized treatment programs.