Driving while inebriated is illegal in all 50 states as well as Washington, D.C. If you are arrested for and charged with this offense, you could face any number of penalties, all of which are designed to reform your behavior, help you pay back your debt to society, and protect the public.
You may be like many U.S. citizens and not know what the legal blood alcohol limit is in your state or anywhere else in the country. You can decide whether or not to drive drunk by learning what the blood alcohol level is where you live and how you might be punished if you go over that legal driving limit.
Drunk Driving Definition
How do the states define drinking and driving and what kinds of behaviors do police officers look for to decide whether or not to test you for being over the alcohol driving limit? Drunk driving in its simplest terms is defined as driving while impaired because of consuming too much liquor or too many illegal or prescription drugs.
Some of the behaviors that law enforcement watches for to decide if you could be drink driving include:
- weaving in and out of traffic
- drifting onto the shoulder or driving over the rumble strips
- frequent and unexplained braking
- speeding up and then suddenly slowing down
Police officers can also stop you for possibly being over the drink drive limit if they witness you drinking liquor or using drugs while driving or if they smell alcohol on your breath while they have you pulled over for a traffic infraction. They likewise can stop and test you to see if you are below the legal limit to drive if they witness you throwing a beer bottle out of the car or trying to hide drugs in your pocket or purse.
The drink driving law in each state varies. Nonetheless, studies and statistics continue to prove that motorists over the drink drive limit pose a serious and deadly hazard to themselves and the public.
Blood Alcohol Content Facts
The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted studies recently to determine how much of a threat that motorists above the legal drink drive limit can pose to the public. The findings were based in part on how people behave once they reach certain drink drive limit units of alcohol content in their blood.
For example, people who are 0.02 percent above the legal blood alcohol level demonstrate slightly impaired motor skills that could make them unsafe behind the wheel. This level is equivalent to consuming two alcoholic beverages. People who are 0.02 percent above the legal limit on the blood alcohol level chart showed characteristics of inebriation like:
- loss of judgment
- altered mood
- inability to follow a moving object with their eyes
- difficulty carrying out more than one task at a time
Similarly, people at a 0.05 percent above the legal alcohol limit showed more compromised behaviors like:
- impaired judgment
- lowered alertness
- release of inhibition
- reduced coordination
- difficulty steering
This level of inebriation is equivalent to consuming three alcoholic drinks.
In 2000, Congress mandated that all 50 states establish the legal driving alcohol limit at 0.08. People whose BAC levels are over 0.08 are considered to be fully inebriated and incapable of safely operating a vehicle. At this level or higher of drunkenness, people show behaviors like:
- difficulty concentrating
- short-term memory loss
- speed control
- inability to process information, detect signals, or visually search for something
They also have impaired perception, making them a significant danger to themselves and the public if they get behind the wheel of a car.
The U.S. government established the 0.08 percent legal limit of alcohol blood content to keep the public safe. Even so, millions of people ignore or remain unaware of the alcohol limit for driving and put the lives of innocent bystanders and motorists at risk of injury or worse.
Drunk Driving Statistics
As noted, the CDC and the NHTSA compiled evidence to prove how much of a public safety risk drunk driving is in every U.S. state and across the country. Their studies showed that 28 people in the U.S. die every day in drunk driving accidents.
This rate translates into one person dying from intoxicated driving every 53 minutes. In total, drunk driving costs the American taxpayers more than $44 billion each year.
Further, the evidence showed that in 2014 33 percent of all traffic-related deaths occurred because of drunk driving. Out of the 1074 car accident deaths among children 0 to 14 years of age that year, 19 percent were caused by drivers who chose to drive high or drunk.
Moreover, more than 121 million drivers self-reported operating vehicles while inebriated in 2014. Out of that number, only 1.1 million were arrested and charged with DUI or DWI.
Also as noted, inebriated driving can occur not only from consuming alcohol but also by taking illegal or prescription drugs. In fact, the studies showed that more people today are smoking marijuana before driving.
Thirteen percent of of nighttime drivers in the U.S. report smoking marijuana before getting behind the wheel of their vehicles. Studies have shown that people who use marijuana are 25 percent more likely to be involved in a DWI crash than drivers who are sober.
Penalties for Driving Under the Influence
The penalties for DWI and DUI vary from state to state. However, the punishments can be mild and only include paying a civil penalty and doing community service. They can also be severe and include paying huge monetary fines and serving time in prison.
Many people who are first-time offenders are given the opportunity to reform their lives and avoid serious jail time. They are often sentenced to probation and may have to pay a fine of $500 or more or perform community service for a few months.
Repeat offenders are punished more severely and may even have to serve a prison sentence. After they get out of jail, they may have their driver licenses suspended or revoked. The worst DUI offenders, such as people who have four or more convictions on their records, might lose their driving privileges or have to allow their cars to be equipped with an ignition interlock device, which is essentially a mobile breathalyzer test.
Hire a DUI Lawyer
Even if you are a first-time DUI offender, you need to hire an attorney who practices DWI law. A lawyer will ensure that you are given your full rights during and after your arrest.
Your counsel can also guarantee that the punishment that you receive fits the nature of your DWI offense. It is reasonable to assume that you will not have to go to prison on a first offense unless you harmed or killed someone.
Your lawyer may be able to negotiate a lesser charge against you or have the charges dismissed. If you are sentenced to community service or probation, your attorney can also make sure that you serve out that punishment and report the completion of it to the court.
Each state has its own set of laws for drunk driving. Regardless of where you live or travel, you can expect to be arrested and charged if you are driving over the legal BAC limit in that state.
You can determine if driving while inebriated is worth it by learning how alcohol and drugs affect your ability to operate a vehicle. You also should discover at what limits you lose your ability to carry out routine tasks as well as basic decision making and motor skills that keep you safe while driving.