According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 1.46 million drivers were arrested in 2006 for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. Far more disturbing are the number of deaths involving motor vehicles and alcohol. Holiday weekends, such as Labor Day and Thanksgiving, are statistically considered among the most deadly of the year for alcohol-related deaths and injuries. The dramatic rise in DUI instances has led many states to vigorously impose laws and consequences in an effort to clamp down on drunken drivers, especially repeat offenders. DUI laws also are being expanded to include a wide variety of motorized vehicles such as motorboats, personal watercraft, snowmobiles and ATVs.
While DUI and Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) laws vary by state, according to the legal experts at FindLaw.com, the web’s leading source for legal information, there are strong similarities among most. As of August 2005, all 50 states define drunken driving when a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) reaches 0.08 percent.
DUI laws are not limited to just alcohol use. Most states take into account any substance, including marijuana, prescription drugs and even over-the-counter drugs, such as antihistamines, which may impair a driver’s ability think clearly and safely operate a motor vehicle.
“If you’re pulled over on suspicion of drunken driving, police typically use three methods of determining whether a driver has been driving under the influence,” says Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney with FindLaw.com. “These methods include observation, sobriety tests and blood-alcohol content measurement.”
A police officer can pull you over if you commit any traffic violation, even for something as minor as having burned-out taillight, as well as on suspicion of driving recklessly or under the influence. If a police officer suspects that you are under the influence, he or she will probably ask you to get out of your car and perform a series of balance and speech tests, such as standing on one leg, walking a straight line from heel-to-toe, or reciting a line of letters or numbers. After taking into account a driver’s ability to perform these tests, the officer may arrest you or ask you to take a chemical test.
The amount of alcohol in your body is understood by measuring the amount of alcohol in your blood. This measurement can be taken directly, by drawing a sample of your blood, or it can be calculated by applying a mathematical formula to the amount of alcohol in your breath or urine. Some states give you a choice as to which test you can take – others don’t. If you test at, or are above the level of intoxication, you are presumed to be driving under the influence. In some states, you may be able to overcome this presumption by convincing a jury that your judgment was not impaired. However, in states with strict DUI laws, such as California, you can be convicted of driving under the influence -- even if your level of intoxication is under 0.08 percent -- if a prosecutor can prove an outward sign of impairment.
And this is where the trouble really begins. While all states treat a first DUI offense as a misdemeanor, there’s nothing “light” about being convicted for a DUI. Besides stiff fines, loss of driving privileges for a designated period of time and a requirement to take a safe driving course, a DUI conviction typically will result in dramatically higher insurance fees and travel restrictions to other countries such as Canada. If a driver has an excessive BAC level, or an injury to another person is involved, far more serious consequences may result. For example, if a drunk driving incident results in death, in some states, a person may be charged with assault with a deadly weapon.
Here are some additional legal tips about DUI laws offered by FindLaw.com:
Play it safe, call a cab.
Besides putting your life and others in danger, some states give police the authority to make a DUI arrest on probable cause if you are in your vehicle with your keys and intoxicated, even if the vehicle is not moving.
Think twice before refusing sobriety test.
You may refuse to take a chemical test (blood, breath, urine), but almost every state has a so-called “implied consent” law, and under such laws, a refusal can result in suspension of your driver’s license from between three to 12 months. This is true even if you’re eventually found not guilty of the current drunk driving charge. Further, if your drunk driving case goes to trial, the prosecutor can tell the jury that you wouldn’t take the test, which may lead the jury members to conclude that because you refused you were, in fact, drunk or under the influence. In states such as California, juries are instructed that they may infer that you were conscious of your own guilt.
Get a lawyer.
Because defending against a charge of driving under the influence requires an understanding of scientific and medical concepts, it’s best to hire an attorney who specializes in DUI law. If you need to find a lawyer, go to FindLaw.com, which can help you quickly and easily locate an attorney specializing in DUI and DWI law.
Cooperate at sobriety checkpoints.
Even if you have not consumed any alcohol or drugs, you should cooperate with law enforcement authorities if instructed to pull over at a drunken driving checkpoint, which an increasing number of states conduct during major holidays like Thanksgiving weekend and New Year’s Eve.
To learn more about DUI laws, or to explore other legal questions, visit www.FindLaw.com.