Evolution of Change Regarding Penalties for Drunk Driving
Years ago, drunk driving was a type of traffic offense. The consequences of driving drunk resulted in few criminal penalties, and drunk driving did not have the negative stigma that it carries now. In more recent years, though, it has become a very serious crime.
Drunk driving is defined differently in each state with the acronym of DUI used for driving under the influence and DWI that is short for driving while intoxicated. Many states use the terms equally, but in some states, greater penalties are given for the DWI rather than the DUI. Generally speaking, in many states, the legal limit before a drunk driving charge is made is when there is a blood alcohol level of .08%. One can also be convicted for refusing to take a field sobriety test.
New York State was the first state to enact anti-drunk driving laws with California and other states following along. While these early laws prohibited driving while intoxicated, there was no measure of what intoxication meant.
In 1938, the blood alcohol level of .15% was the most commonly adopted level for drunk driving following research by the American Medical Association and the National Safety Council.
In 1949, “Gone with the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell was killed when crossing a street in Atlanta after being hit by a drunk driver. Though there was no proof that the driver was drunk, he did admit to having a drink and was also speeding. There was brief public outrage that died down eventually, but Americans became aware of the dangers of drunk driving.
And in 1953, Robert Borkenstein invented the Breathalyzer that is able to measure blood alcohol level through the alcohol vapors in a person’s breath.
Then in 1980 a California mother who was devastated by the death of her daughter at the hands of a drunk driver led the campaign for stricter laws against drunk driving. She also founded MADD, Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, creating a public outcry against the dangers of drunk driving. MADD was instrumental in helping pass approximately 700 drunk driving laws nationwide between 1980 and 1985.
Legal Consequences of Driving Drunk
States vary in the penalties those who drive drunk receive following a conviction. However, there are some commonalities among the states as well as some very individualized laws particular to each jurisdiction.
While the legal consequences of driving drunk vary from state to state, convictions — even for first-time offenders — may result in very serious penalties. Those penalties include license revocation, vehicle impoundment, probation, jail time, community service, mandatory installation of an ignition lock preventing the driver from driving if impaired, fines and completion of substance abuse classes. Fines may be as minimal as $500 and can increase to thousands of dollars.
Even though the penalty in many states for a first time conviction of driving under the influence may be a misdemeanor, this conviction could have far-reaching consequences for the person convicted. For instance, their insurance rates may increase. Another one of the results of driving drunk could be that one may lose the chance at a coveted job. If applying for a job, even a misdemeanor conviction could prevent someone from obtaining the job since a future employer may consider that the person is too great a risk to hire.
The penalties may be incurred even if the intoxicated driver did not cause an accident and was merely stopped under suspicion of drunk driving. Penalties become even greater for repeat offenders and if an accident or fatalities are involved.
One of the most severe penalties is vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide, which is considered a felony. This type of conviction may likely result in incarceration, leaving the perpetrator with a felony charge that can impact all aspect of his or her life — many prospective employers will ask for details about felony convictions when processing a prospective employee’s criminal background check.
Additionally, the victim of a drunk driving accident may choose to sue the defendant in civil court with damages being based on bodily injuries or damages to property.
Specific Penalties in the District of Columbia
In the Nation’s Capitol, Washington, D.C., there are greater penalties imposed for drinking and driving with a higher blood alcohol level. For example, the mandatory minimum jail time for a person with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .20 is 10 days. With a BAC of .25, the penalty increases to 15 days, and with a BAC of .30, the penalty is 20 days. The maximum jail time that can be issued for a first offense drunk driving conviction in D.C. is 180 days and/or a $1,000 fine. This comes along with a six-month license revocation.
The penalties increase exponentially with additional convictions. With second, third and fourth convictions, the offender may serve up to a year in prison and could receive a fine up to $10,000 for a fourth conviction. A second conviction may even result in the loss of a license for a year.
Penalties in D.C. and many states are more severe when those under 21 are caught drinking and driving. Any measurable amount of alcohol can result in the accused receiving penalties even if their BAC is below the legal limit — since they are illegally imbibing alcohol because they are under the drinking age.
More importantly, if a person under 21 is caught with a fake ID or altered driver’s license while attempting to purchase alcohol, they can be charged criminally and receive fines between $300 and $1,000. They may also risk suspension of their driver’s license for between 90 days and one year. This applies also if an underage person is caught consuming alcohol.
Many states permit prosecutors to charge perpetrators with vehicular manslaughter when an inattentive driver is involved in a car accident where another person is killed.
Other states require that a driver used reckless disregard in order to find someone guilty of vehicular manslaughter. A person who is intoxicated and kills another person while driving may be charged with vehicular manslaughter because they clearly used reckless disregard when they drove while intoxicated.
Many states must show that the driving was careless and that proof of intoxication in and of itself will not result in charges of vehicular manslaughter. Florida is an exception to that rule and still allows prosecution for vehicular manslaughter merely by showing two elements: that the driver was intoxicated and that their driving resulted in someone’s death.
Penalties in cases of vehicular homicide are greater when the person accused was under the influence of alcohol. For example, in Georgia, someone accused of first degree vehicular homicide because they were driving while intoxicated may be subject to 15 years in prison, while someone convicted of second degree vehicular homicide (because of negligence not involving intoxication) may only receive a year in prison.
The severity of sentences differs greatly from state to state. For instance, the penalty for vehicular homicide with a DUI in Minnesota can reach a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail, but the penalty for the same offense in Alabama only carries a maximum of five years in prison.
Mandatory Jail Times
Some states routinely award first time offenders of driving while intoxicated with one year in prison. In Alaska, Tennessee and Georgia, first time offenders are often given a year in prison, but that sentence will vary depending upon the jurisdiction of the court and whether there were minors involved, or how high the BAC.
However, with the second DUI, mandatory jail time increases for many states mainly because with the second offense, the crime is no longer a misdemeanor but a felony that results in increased penalties. The likelihood of jail time is influenced by the same factors which influenced jail times for those first time offenders — whether minors were involved, the level of the BAC and the likelihood of the jurisdiction to award jail time.
Efforts in Drunk Driving Prevention
Nationwide consistency for drunk driving laws is one of the most important steps in combating drunk driving. Every state has now adopted 21 as the drinking age and .08 BAC as the legal level for impairment.Varying of the drinking age was previously a great impediment to enforcement. Before the drinking age was raised in the 1980s, Virginia had a different drinking age than Washington, D.C. Consequently, underage drinkers would often drive across the border from Virginia to D.C. to drink and sometimes drive back impaired. With the raising of the drinking age, the incentive to drive to another state or jurisdiction to drink was thereby eliminated.
A variety of methods have been used in an ongoing effort to prevent drunk driving.
• Instructional measures such as mass media campaigns and educational programs in schools inform students and adults alike of the dangers of drunk driving and the necessity of having a designated driver.
• Sobriety checkpoints enable police to stop drivers at various locations to check for signs of drunk driving. Police may initiate breathalyzer tests if they have reason to believe that the drivers are drunk.
• Interventions and screenings may take place at colleges, universities, or in health care settings and can greatly help in finding that someone has a potential problem with alcohol abuse before it gets to the level where drinking and driving occur.
• For the 2016 Superbowl, Budweiser even switched up its ad campaign, and actress Helen Mirren delivered an anti-drunk driving PSA. Budweiser did not merely employ Ms. Mirren to deliver the PSA — they collaborated with Twitter and created a unique hash tag. Every time the hash tag was tweeted, Budweiser agreed to donate $1 for every tweet and would donate up to $1 million to safe ride programs.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving
MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, was incorporated in 1980 to help the families and victims of drunk driving and to increase awareness of the problem. MADD posts some alarming statistics on their website in an effort to educate the general public about the dangers of drunk driving. MADD has provided the following drunk driving facts:
• Only about 3,200 of the 300,000 people who drive drunk every day in the U.S. are arrested.
• Approximately one third of drivers who are arrested for drunk driving are not first time offenders.
• Drunk drivers from the ages of 21-24 made up the largest percentage of those convicted of drunk driving (30%) in fatal crashes in 2014.
• Drunk driving deaths have decreased by about 50% since MADD was founded in 1980.
• The average drunk driver has driven drunk more than 80 times prior to their first arrest.
• Drunk driving crashes result in injury approximately every two minutes.
One of the many effective methods MADD uses to help prevent drunk driving deaths is its support of a very strong lobbying organization. Through its lobbying efforts, MADD stays abreast of and helps to influence the drafting of legislation at both state and federal levels to increase the penalties for drunk drivers. MADD gains the support of legislators who will join with them in supporting legislation aimed at reducing the instances of drunk driving and lessening the number of deaths caused by drinking and driving.
MADD encourages individual involvement of citizens across the country to call their state and federal legislators to let them know of their support for pending legislation. MADD also asks its volunteers to get involved in a variety of activities which may help reduce the likelihood of drunk driving deaths. These activities include monitoring cases where DUIs are being prosecuted, helping hand out MADD informational pieces at community events and distributing MADD’s red ribbons to show support for the commitment to not drink and drive.
Uber joined forces with MADD in 2014 in order to reduce the likelihood of alcohol-related crashes and to increase awareness about drunk driving. Uber has shown in major U.S. cities such as Miami, Pittsburgh, and Chicago that ridership increases during the peak times for drunk driving incidents and near places with liquor licenses.
A report co-produced by MADD and Uber in 2015 showed a reduction in drunk driving incidents in states where Uber was permitted to operate. The report showed that there was a 6.5% reduction in drunk driving incidents by those under 30 in the states after Uber was launched.
Responsibility.org is an organization which was started 25 years ago to promote knowledge of the dangers of drunk driving and underage drinking. They work through a National Advisory Board and with leaders across the country to help influence responsible decision making regarding the use of alcohol.
Drunk Driving Prevention Program (DDPP) was started by Sgt. Brandon Wegner in 2013 after his wife lost two friends who were hit by drunk drivers. He hopes that eventually the program will expand to every military installation in the U.S. At present, there are programs at the following bases: Fort Riley, Fort Drum, Fort Leonard Wood, Fort Stewart / Hunter AAF and Oahu every Friday and Saturday night. Anyone who lives within a 30-mile radius of the DDPP is eligible to participate in the program, and they do not need to be a member of the military, either. These completely free rides are funded by volunteer contributions only.
Responsibility.org supports state and federal legislators in their fight to reduce drunk driving. Some of the efforts they support to combat underage drinking include Good Samaritan laws which grant immunity to those underage drinkers (under 21) seeking emergency medical assistance for another person who is medically in danger due to alcohol consumption. Tragedies often occur at college campuses every year when underage drinkers resist going to authorities about a friend who shows signs of alcohol poisoning for fear of legal repercussions. Responsibility.org also supports social host laws, which impose strict fines and penalties on adults who knowingly serve alcohol to underage drinkers. Penalties include fines and suspension of drivers’ licenses.
The organization also supports multiple efforts to combat drunk driving among the population who can legally drink. Such efforts include open container laws, penalties for refusal to test for BAC, drunk driving child endangerment laws, mandatory ignition locks and drunk driving education for law enforcement personnel including judges, law students, prosecutors and probation officers.
The Computerized Assessment or Referral System (CARS project) was developed after studies revealed that at least 45% of those repeat offenders of DUI suffered from mental health disorders such as bi-polar, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. CARS was developed by the Division on Addiction, Cambridge Health Alliance, with support from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and ongoing funding from Responsibility.org.
CARS is able to help those DUI offenders receive the mental health services they need in an effort to help combat not only their mental health problems, but also to hopefully reduce the likelihood of future incidents of drunk driving—thereby reducing recidivism.
CARS works by screening a person for signs and symptoms of mental illness in recent times and over the course of a lifetime. It will identify special mental health needs and based upon zip code, and it will provide the user with specific treatment centers for the mental illness identified.Two Massachusetts-based programs implemented the CARS study in 2015, and the recidivism results will be released in 2016. Additional funding in 2016 and 2017 will allow the expansion of the CARS program to five additional pilot sites across the country.
Despite the many warnings against drunk driving and the barriers placed in the way of someone who may drive drunk, there are still those who will be prosecuted for drunk driving. They may be people who routinely abuse alcohol or those who occasionally imbibe to excess. If someone does develop an alcohol addiction, it is important to note that there are treatment options that will not only treat the physical aspect of addiction, but that will also treat the entire person — and help him or her lead a fulfilled life without the addiction to alcohol. While some treatment programs address just the addiction itself, successful treatment of the addiction is more likely if the whole person is treated rather than only the addiction.
12 Keys Rehab is a holistic rehabilitation treatment center that employs four basic steps to recovery: detox, repair, learn and grow. With a low client to staff ratio, 12 Keys treats each person as an individual to help heal the mind, body and spirit in a peaceful environment.
Our expert staff, many of whom have walked in the shoes of addiction, sees the importance of treating both a person’s mental health and physical health as a method to recovery. Furthermore, our staff encourages the personal use of meditation, yoga and other forms of spirituality as part of the healing process. Recovery plans include time for recreation and rest, complete with healthy delicious meals.
Most importantly, at 12 Keys, we see the importance of tailoring each treatment to the individual. As no two people are alike, no two treatment plans should be the same either. We use different types of counseling, exercises and activities to create a plan for ensuring the best outcome for each patient. The Florida waterfront provides a peaceful idyllic setting complete with outdoor areas for rest and recreation.
You don’t have to be a DUI statistic. Contact 12 Keys today and get started on your recovery.