Drunk driving, in and of itself, is a violation. In the United States, a person is legally not supposed to be driving when his or her blood alcohol content level reaches 0.08%. At this BAC level, a driver has enough alcohol in his system to affect his ability to drive properly. However, when an individual’s blood alcohol content reaches between 0.03% and 0.059%, the brain’s abilities to handle tasks required for safe driving are impaired and become more severely hindered as the BAC level increases.
Alcohol affects the brain’s ability to control eye movements and process information. This means that alcohol-impaired drivers take more time to read signs or respond to traffic signals or others occupying the roadway. At a 0.03% BAC level, the ability to steer is affected as well as the ability to remain in the proper lane. Alcohol-impaired drivers also have difficulty concentrating on more than one thing at a time. For example, a driver could be capable of steering, but forgets to monitor his or her speed.
Drunk driving is very costly on many levels. It is estimated that the minimum cost to a driver for his or her first DUI conviction in the state of New York is $9,500. Estimated costs are similar in other states.
Roughly 33% of Americans are involved in an alcohol-related crash at some point in their lives. In 2006, the number of people who died in a traffic crash involving alcohol accounted for 41% of the total number of traffic fatalities. In the same year, 1.46 million arrests were made concerning people driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
In every state, the minimum punishment for convicted drunk drivers involves the automatic loss of their licenses for a period of time determined by each state. Additionally, some states impose short jail sentences for first-time offenders, and the law in most states requires them to complete some type of treatment program.
In addition to these general DUI punishments, a large number of states have specific laws geared towards dealing with various aspects of drunk driving. For example, many states have an anti-plea bargaining policy that prohibits the reduction of an alcohol-related offense to that of a non-alcohol related crime. There is also the child endangerment policy, which imposes a separate charge or increases the penalty for driving under the influence when a child is in the vehicle. Oftentimes, the punishment for someone convicted of drunk driving depends on the driver’s conviction history. Penalties are also steeper for drivers with blood alcohol concentrations of 0.15% or higher.