Driving under the influence refers to operating a vehicle during or after drinking or using substances that inhibit a person’s ability to drive safely.
When a person is charged with a DUI, they may incur severe legal, social, and financial consequences, depending on the severity of the offense.
Yet this type of charge does not have to be the end of a person’s livelihood or well-being. People with DUI charges on their record can seek treatment, resources, and other aids to help them turn their lives around.
What Is A DUI?
DUI (driving under the influence) is an illegal act that occurs when somebody is operating a vehicle while physically and cognitively impaired due to substance use.
DUI also refers to the charge a person receives for this offense.
While DUI is often associated with drinking alcohol, it can also be applied to using illicit or prescription drugs.
A DUI charge may occur if a law enforcement officer concludes you were too impaired to drive and pose a safety risk to yourself and others.
Difference Between DWI And DUI
DUI and DWI charges have similar meanings, but the precise definition will depend on the state in which the offense occurred.
DWI (driving while intoxicated or impaired) not only encompasses drug and alcohol use, but may also include driving while fatigued or sleepy.
Vehicles Associated With DUI Charges
While most people associate a DUI with cars, trucks, and motorcycles, DUI offenses occur in all types of vehicles.
Vehicle types include:
- golf carts
- construction vehicles
- horse-drawn carriages
- farm equipment
Regardless of whether the offense is referred to as a DWI or DUI, a law enforcement officer will only charge a person when they have proven that they were too impaired to drive safely.
Why People Drive Under The Influence
While it may not be easy to understand why someone would drink or use drugs and drive, there may be several reasons that contribute to their decision to drive while intoxicated. These may include the following:
When someone chooses to drink or do drugs in excess and drive, they may not know how impaired they actually are.
Alcohol and many types of drugs dull the senses and limit a person’s thought processes. An altered physical and mental state may lead to underestimating your level of intoxication.
Some people may know that they’re in no condition to drive but do it anyway to prove to others that they are still in control of themselves.
Perhaps they don’t want to admit they’re too drunk to drive, or feel their pride would be tarnished if a friend, family member, or Uber driver had to come to their rescue.
If a person is too drunk or high to drive but doesn’t have the disposable income for a taxi ride home, they may feel obligated to drive themselves.
Ultimately, driving while intoxicated could prove to be a much more costly option. Legal fees, fines, and medical bills can quickly add up to more than your average taxi fare home.
Substances That May Lead To A DUI
While every state has slightly different parameters for what constitutes a DUI, all states have penalties for consuming alcohol and mind-altering drugs and proceeding to drive a vehicle.
Alcohol is the most common substance that can land a person with a DUI. Alcohol use impairs reaction time, alertness, and motor function to a high degree.
Drivers under the influence of alcohol may not always know that they’re incapable of driving due to the way alcohol affects judgment and impulse control.
While marijuana is medically prescribed and recreationally legal in many states, it’s still considered a controlled substance and is the most common drug used that results in DUI charges.
Most people who are high on marijuana will experience disorientation, delayed reaction time, and an altered mental state that makes operating a motor vehicle extremely dangerous.
Prescription medications can cause a person to feel drowsy, disoriented, or paranoid, and these side effects may be exacerbated further when the drug is mixed with alcohol or other substances.
The physical and mental effects of these substances vary greatly and may include diminished consciousness, nausea, irritability, hallucinations, and more.
How Is A DUI Charge Determined?
When a person is suspected of driving while under the influence, a police officer will look for three types of evidence.
- field evidence
- driver evidence
- blood-alcohol evidence
Field evidence is broken up into five categories that include:
- unusual driving
- driver’s conduct
- driver’s physical appearance
- incriminating statements by the driver
- a driver’s performance during a field sobriety test
An officer will often assess the driver’s physical appearance looking for symptoms of intoxication such as disheveled clothes, alcohol on the breath, slurred speech, and bloodshot or glassy eyes.
Field Sobriety Test
A field sobriety test is a group of three tests used to determine a person’s level of impairment. The tests examine balance, coordination, and a driver’s attention span.
An officer will first ask the driver to follow a moving object with their eyes, looking for eye jerking or if the eye cannot follow the object at all.
The next test is called a “walk-and-turn”, where a person is asked to take nine steps in a straight line. The officer is watching for the ability to balance and follow instructions.
The one-leg test is then conducted, where the driver is instructed to stand on one leg and count up from 1,000 for 30 seconds. The officer is looking for an inability to balance or follow directions.
It is illegal to drive at or above .08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC). Breathalyzers work by measuring the amount of alcohol oxidized by an electrical current in the machine.
Breathalyzer tests aren’t always accurate, however, and many states do not require people to submit to a pre-arrest breath or blood test.
In most states, blood tests may be conducted to get an accurate reading of BAC or other substances in the blood.
The test takes a sample of a person’s blood and measures the amount of the chemical present in the blood.
While accurate, blood tests are typically given in a lab setting after a person has already submitted to arrest under suspicion of DUI.
What Happens If You Fail A DUI Test?
To lawfully arrest someone for a DUI, police have to establish probable cause.
This means officers need evidence such as a failed sobriety test to show that a person was potentially under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Most states will punish a DUI with at least some jail time. Time may range from a minimum of 24 hours all the way up to one year behind bars, depending on the severity of the offense.
If convicted of a DUI, a person will almost certainly have to pay a fine. The price will range anywhere from $250 all the way up to $6,250 per offense.
While some states do not suspend a person’s driver’s license for receiving a DUI, most states require that a person be ineligible to drive for at least 30 days, or up to two years or longer for multiple offenses.
Ignition Interlock Device
Some people may have to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on their car. The IID tests for the presence of alcohol in your breath and prevents the car from starting if alcohol is detected.
Charges That May Result From A DUI
The extent of the charges brought from a DUI will depend on several factors, including prior convictions and aggravating circumstances.
A first-time DUI offense in most states will be punishable by a few days to six months or longer in jail. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, do not require that offenders spend any time in jail.
A charge might be classified as a felony DUI if the driver killed or injured another person due to their intoxication behind the wheel.
Prison sentences of several years or more are not uncommon in these circumstances, but the sentencing is always up to the judge presiding over the case.
If someone already has one or two DUI charges on their record, they may be subject to substantially more jail time than a person who has no record.
They may also be charged with possession of illegal drugs, assault with a deadly weapon, reckless endangerment, and other applicable charges.
Is It Possible To Attend DUI Rehab Instead Of Serving Jail Time?
In many cases, people may be eligible to attend an inpatient or outpatient DUI rehab program instead of going to jail.
Treatment for drug and alcohol use is best accomplished before legal trouble comes into play, but many offenders will benefit from seeing substance abuse from a different perspective.
Provided that a person did not injure or kill another person while driving intoxicated, a judge may give them the option to attend a treatment program designed to help them get sober and stop the cycle of substance abuse.
This is often referred to as court-ordered rehab, or court-mandated treatment.
People that participate in a DUI rehab program will be treated in a residential or outpatient facility, and be subject to a range of evidence-based treatment services.
Addiction treatment services may include:
- intensive outpatient programs (IOP)
- inpatient treatment services
- dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
- family, individual, or group counseling
- 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous
- relapse prevention services
- wellness services
People who attend rehab instead of jail are more likely to stay sober after completing their time and will learn healthy coping mechanisms in the process.
How Much A DUI Will Cost
Many factors come into play when calculating the total cost of a DUI charge. It will depend mainly on the state and city you are convicted in, the substances used, and other factors.
On average, the total cost for a DUI — including legal fees, fines, and other expenses — may be between $10,000 and $30,000.
How Receiving A DUI May Affect Employment
A DUI conviction will not necessarily affect a person’s prospects for employment, but it may, depending on the type of job being sought.
For example, if you’re looking for a job that requires a lot of driving, the employer may pass on candidates with a history of DUI due to the increased liability of hiring them.
Most states have laws against denying employment due to a past conviction if the offense was unrelated to the job being applied for. Most DUI arrests remain on a person’s criminal record for up to seven years.
Support Programs For People With DUIs
DUI charges can result in the upheaval of a person’s life, but there are ways to rebuild your life after being charged with driving under the influence.
Supportive programs can help people with DUI or DWI charges find employment, secure housing, enter treatment, and much more.
People with a DUI conviction can find a range of services available from the state and local government, as well as from non-profit organizations.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a non-profit organization dedicated to ending drunk driving, supporting the victims of drunk driving, and preventing underage drinking.
People with a DUI charge may be able to attend a Victim Impact Panel (VIP) program that is intended to help people understand the long-term effects of intoxicated driving.
VIP classes typically feature victims, survivors, and others that have been impacted by impaired driving. Speakers talk about the incident that injured them or killed one of their loved ones.
Some courts may encourage or mandate first-time offenders to attend a VIP class in addition to rehab services or other required DUI classes.
Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
SAMHSA is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health and behavioral health efforts within the United States.
There are several SAMHSA-backed programs for people with a DUI and behavioral health issues, such as substance use disorders or co-occurring mental illnesses.
One such resource is the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs). At a CCBHC, people can find substance abuse treatment without having to worry about how to pay or where to live, as costs are completely covered.
U.S. Department Of Veterans Affairs (VA)
The VA Alcohol and Drug Dependence Rehabilitation Program provides medical, social, vocational, and rehab services to alcohol- and drug-dependent veterans.
The VA will assist veterans with all stages of rehabilitation including detox, inpatient or outpatient care, psychiatric care, and much more.
Tips For Loved Ones Who Have Received A DUI
If you or a loved one have received a DUI, there are some basic tips to follow that may ease the process and help you financially and legally recover.
1. Find A Lawyer With DUI Experience
Once a person has been arrested for driving intoxicated, the first thing you should do is find a DUI lawyer.
Lawyers have a deep knowledge of state laws and can help people with a DUI-related offense navigate their legal options.
2. Abide By The DUI Sentence
Whether the consequences include community service or a DUI rehab program, it’s important to abide by whatever penalties the judge instates.
Failure to show up to court or meet other obligations could result in serious repercussions such as license revocation, arrest, and more.
3. Secure New Car Insurance
When a person gets a DUI, their car insurance provider is likely to terminate the existing policy. Find a replacement insurance provider as quickly as possible to avoid further legal issues.
4. Find A Support Group
Due to the immense stress that a DUI conviction may cause, people should reach out to family and friends as a support network throughout the process.
Some people find that a licensed therapist may help them process their thoughts on the incident, and can help reduce the stress of receiving a DUI.
5. Seek Necessary Treatment
Depending on the severity of the DUI offense, treatment for drug or alcohol abuse is often ordered by the court as an alternative to jail time.
Even if addiction treatment is not ordered by the judge, offenders with substance use disorders may benefit from the evidence-based care available at a rehab center.
A rehab facility will help DUI offenders confront the underlying issues surrounding their substance abuse, and learn coping mechanisms that don’t involve drinking or using drugs.
How prevalent are DUI charges in the United States?
Consider the following statistics regarding DUI and related issues:
- Drunk drivers account for 28 percent of American traffic fatalities.
- 81 percent of people arrested for DUI in 2019 were male, and 19 percent were female.
- Adolescents who don’t drink until 21 are 70 percent less likely to drive drunk later in life
There are 300,000 incidents of drinking and driving per day in the U.S.
- 56 percent of drivers involved in serious injury or fatal crashes test positive for at least one drug.
- Every year, 1.5 million people are arrested for a DUI.
For additional information about drunk driving or driving while high, you can visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website.
Resources For Overcoming A DUI
A DUI is a serious offense, but help is available in the form of rehab programs, government programs, and non-profit organizations designed to help people who have a DUI charge.
Drug And Alcohol Treatment Resources
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) — Here, people can find alcohol recovery support groups and other resources for people with addiction disorders.
- American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) — Through ASAM, people can find resources about addiction, treatment methods, and advocacy initiatives.
DUI And Related Information Resources
- Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — The CDC provides dozens of fact sheets and data that can help people understand the effects of impaired driving.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — The NIDA offers a wealth of information about the behavioral and physical effects of substance abuse.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — SAMHSA offers several resources to help people with mental illness or substance use disorders including grants to pay for treatment, informational pages, and more.
DUI Legal Resources
- National Motorists Association (NMA) — NMA is a nonprofit advocacy organization that is dedicated to protect the rights of motorists. Resources offered here include DUI lawyer referrals and legal aid grants.
DUI Support For Teens
- Partnership for Drug-Free Kids — This organization is dedicated to helping teens and their parents navigate addiction treatment and recovery services.
- NIDA for Teens — Kids, their parents, and educators will find information here about drugs, alcohol and their physical and emotional effects.
Resources For Veterans With DUIs
- Vets4Warriors — Vets4Warriors is a 24/7 confidential peer support network for veterans and their family members by phone, chat, text, or email correspondence.
- U.S. Department Of Veterans Affairs — Veterans eligible for VA medical care can find free addiction treatment programs, counseling, and resources for homeless veterans at their local VA medical center.
Resources For Women With DUIs
- Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility — This organization offers a guide to help female DUI offenders achieve successful outcomes.
- Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) — This organization offers many services including classes for DUI offenders as well as resources designed to prevent people from drinking and driving in the first place.