The DUI Price Tag

We all know that driving under the influence, or DUI, is a dangerous proposition. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, on average, one person is injured every two minutes in alcohol-related accidents in the United States. In 1998, the total number of traffic deaths in California was 3,494. A total of 1,324 of those were alcohol-related. That is 37.9 percent, up from 35.6 percent the year before. But what is the actual cost of a DUI for a student in California?

Courtney Takashima
Guardian

Sara’s* Story

According to Sara, a UCSD senior, it would be easy for any of us to get into trouble. The night she went out, she only had a few drinks and lived right down the street from the bar where she and her friends were hanging out. She had planned on having a few drinks, waiting a while, and then driving home.

“”I’ve driven drunk before; I admit that,”” Sara said. “”But, I totally thought I was fine that night. I’d driven because I had to work the next day. I figured I would be fine, and I would’ve been if my headlight hadn’t been out that night.””

When the officer pulled her over, she hadn’t been weaving or speeding. He pulled her over for a broken headlight. By law, the officer must have cause to pull you over, otherwise a DUI arrest can be thrown out. Sara passed the standard roadside alcohol tests that he administered, but the officer decided to administer a breathalyzer test anyway. Sara’s test exceeded the 0.08 limit and the officer arrested her. Usually, the arresting officer will impound the car of an individual he is arresting. However, in this instance, Sara got lucky.

“”He acted like he was doing me this huge favor by not impounding my car,”” Sara said. “”I would have rather he taken my car and let me walk home.””

Sara was arrested and taken to the Las Colinas Women’s Detention Center.

“”At the Las Colinas Women’s Detention Center, they make you feel like the biggest loser ever,”” Sara said. “”I seriously had self-esteem issues after that. They take all of your stuff and make you feel like shit. They put you in a cell with everyone else that they picked up that night.””

According to Sara, the guards claimed that it was standard procedure to keep everyone who has been arrested in confinement for a minimum of six hours to give them an opportunity to sober up. The next morning, her roommate had to pick her up.

Mike’s* Story

Unlike Sara, Mike, an incoming UCSD transfer student, felt fully intoxicated the night of his arrest. He was in a small town in Nevada and his ride had left him at a party.

“”My accident happened three days before Christmas in 1999,”” Mike said. “”I went to a Christmas party with my brother and his girlfriend.””

He admits that he was pretty drunk that night.

“”It was bad news,”” he said. “”I was really hammered. I was a block from the party and I took a corner way too fast. I don’t know exactly what happened, but all of a sudden, the girl I was with was screaming her head off, and I couldn’t breathe because I got the wind knocked out of me. The people from the party must have heard the accident, because all of a sudden some girl comes up to the window and starts yelling at me. I figure that I must have left to call the police, but when the police pulled up, it looked like I was fleeing the accident.””

Mike admitted to the police that he was intoxicated, and although this was fairly evident by his behavior, most attorneys do not recommend admitting to the police that you have been drinking.

Mike wasn’t tested until two hours after the accident.

“”I blew a 0.16 two hours after the accident,”” he said.

The accident resulted in his own injuries and damage to the car, which cost Mike additional money.

He was not detained at a correction facility.

“”Because my back was bothering me, they just booked me at the scene and released me to the paramedics. At the time, I thought I was pretty smooth. I kept on hitting on the nurses.””

Drinking and Driving: Statistics

According to the Insurance Institute for highway safety, in 1999, 28 percent of fatally injured drivers had blood alcohol contents, or BACs, of at least 0.10 percent. In 1999, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 30 percent of all traffic deaths occurred in crashes in which at least one driver or nonoccupant had a BAC of 0.10 percent or more. The statistics went on to show that there was alcohol present in 38 percent of all fatal crashes in 1999.

Such statistics are sometimes cited as proof that between one-third and one-half of all fatal crashes are caused by drunken driving and that none of the crashes that involve alcohol would occur if the alcohol were not present. This is incorrect and misleading because alcohol is only one of several factors that contribute to crashes involving drivers who are drinking. Furthermore, some fatally injured people in alcohol-related crashes are pedestrians with high BACs, and these fatalities would still occur even if every driver were sober.

According to the National Commission against Drunk Driving, individuals between the ages of 21 and 34 comprise approximately half of all the drunken drivers involved in alcohol-related fatal crashes and are responsible for more alcohol-related fatal crashes than any other age group.

Drivers between the ages of 21 and 34 are also more likely than any other age group to have been intoxicated at the time of the crash. Additionally, they have the highest BACs in fatal crashes. Over the past 10 years, the number of underage drunken drivers has decreased by 40 percent. However, in comparison, the number of 21- to 34-year-old drunken drivers has only decreased by 13 percent.

The Law

In California, a driver is considered legally drunk when his BAC is a 0.08 or higher. BAC describes the concentration of alcohol in a person’s blood expressed as weight per unit of volume. For example, at 0.10 percent BAC, there is a concentration of 100 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood.

For most legal purposes, however, a blood sample is not necessary to determine a person’s BAC. It can be measured much more simply by analyzing exhaled breath. In the event that you are pulled over and blow a 0.08 or higher in a breathalyzer, you will most likely be arrested and taken to a police station, where a blood test will be administered.

Be aware that submission to field sobriety testing and portable field breath testing is not required by law. However, under a procedure called administrative license suspension, licenses are taken before conviction when a driver fails or refuses to take a chemical test.

Procedurally, you should be aware of the few rights that you are entitled to if you’ve been arrested for a DUI. An officer must advise you of your constitutional rights — the Miranda warning — before any further questioning takes place. You must be given a choice of breath or blood testing; if you refuse, you must be advised of the legal consequences (the “”implied consent”” advisement). If a breath test is administered at the police station, since the breath sample is not saved, you must be given a chance to obtain a blood sample for later independent testing by your defense attorney.

An officer must have cause to pull you over for drunken driving. DUI evidence falls into five categories, which include driving symptoms such as weaving or lane straddling.

According to the Department of Transportation, if you make an unusually wide turn while driving, this is cause to pull you over because there is a 65 percent chance that you are drunk.

Additionally, DUI evidence includes personal symptoms such as slurred speech or bloodshot eyes, failure to pass a field sobriety test (which may inlude walking in a straight line or reciting the alphabet) and incriminating statements such as, “”I only had six beers.””

Blood-alcohol evidence or a breath test are used in California to test BACs. Urine tests are now given in California only when breath or blood are not available.

Currently, California has two basic drunken driving laws, found in Vehicle Code sections 23152(a) and 23152(b). According to Vehicle code 23152(a), it is a misdemeanor to drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Vehicle code 23152(b) states that it is a misdemeanor to drive with 0.08 percent or more alcohol in your blood. In most cases, both the 23152(a) and (b) offenses will result in a person being charged. Though there is only one act, the law states that a defendant can be convicted of both offenses.

Although you can be convicted of both offenses, you can only be punished for one.

Federal law governs automobile accidents that are the result of drinking and driving. Vehicle Code section 23153 sets forth the felony DUI provisions where an injury results from the drunken driving, while Penal Code sections 191.5 and 192 describe the crime of vehicular manslaughter when a death is the result of the accident.

If you want to protest any part of the procedure, or anything else, you must do so within 10 days of your arrest, or you lose out.

Sara said that she definitely recommends getting an attorney quickly to figure out what your rights are. She recommends getting an attorney that specializes in DUI cases, or else you may not get the best representation.

How Do You Know When You’re Legally Drunk?

Impairment is not determined by type of drink. It is measured by the amount of alcohol ingested over a specific period of time. There is an equivalent amount of alcohol in such standard drinks as a 12-ounce glass of beer, a four-ounce glass of wine and 1.25 ounces of 80-proof liquor. Beer is the most common drink consumed by people stopped for alcohol-impaired driving or involved in alcohol-related crashes.

The effects of alcoholic drinks vary greatly because the rate that alcohol is absorbed into the blood differs from person to person. Other factors, such as the amount of food in the stomach, also affect alcohol absorption. Nevertheless, various organizations have developed charts intended to help people estimate their BACs based on the number of drinks consumed. These tables can be used to estimate BACs, but they are subject to error. Even after controlling for differences such as age, sex and weight, all of which are known to affect BACs, an individual’s peak BAC may differ markedly from the average indicated on the charts.

The Costs

The price of a DUI isn’t just the arrest on your record or your parents’ collective wrath. There is a very steep monetary price tag as well. In California, a driver convicted of a DUI will pay thousands of dollars in court fees and fines.

This can include $187 for vehicle towing and storage, $156 for booking at your arrest, $100 for license reinstatement, an estimated $2,700 for car insurance increases, $480 for a DUI fine, $816 court assessment, $44 community service fee, $100 for a DUI victims fund, $50 for an alcohol education fund, $550 for DUI classes, $20 for a DUI victim’s impact session and costs for a DMV file search.

All totaled, this can cost over $5,200. This number can go up substantially if you decide to contract an attorney, which both Mike and Sara recommend. An attorney can reduce your fines and reduce the amount of time that you lose your license.

If the officer commited a procedural error, the entire event can be thrown out if your attorney is particularly competent.

According to Mike, because his arrest was the result of his accident, the total cost for the DUI will be at least $20,000. The repairs to the fence that he damaged were $150, plus a DUI fine to the court that totaled $660.

The DMV charges separate fines from the court, which include $100 reinstatement fee for his driver’s license and $300 for DUI classes. The most expensive part of receiving a DUI is usually the rise in insurance costs. For Mike, this means that premiums that were less than $100 a month will go up to over $300 a month for the next seven years. In addition to his court fees and fines, he has had to repay the girl $1,500 for the damage done to her car.

The punishment in drunk driving cases is set forth by statute and can be incredibly complex. The range of possible sentences is determined by the basic statute, with modifications for such things as having a prior conviction within the past seven years, speeding 20 miles per hour over the limit, having a child under 14 in the car, having a blood-alcohol reading over 0.20, or refusing to submit to chemical testing. Additionally, if you get into an accident or do any property damage, you will be held financially liable, which can significantly increase the cost of a DUI.

The actual sentence will also be affected by the facts of the case, any policies of the local court and prosecutors, the weaknesses in the case uncovered by the defense attorney and the reputation of that attorney.

Dealing With It

For some people, telling their parents is the worst part about getting a DUI.

“”I didn’t call my parents for at least four days after my arrest,”” Sara said. “”I didn’t even want to deal with it.””

It is especially difficult when, as a student, your parents are supporting you. A DUI is not just a social burden, it is a financial one as well.

“”My parents help me out with school by paying my rent,”” said Mike. “”They are really anti-drinking. Now they think that I am an alcoholic. I screwed up and I admit that. Drinking and driving is just about the stupidest thing you can do. They thought I partied a lot before, but with this they thought that I had reached rock bottom. I still drink occasionally, but I don’t let them know. It gets pretty dramatic with parents.””

The philosophy behind the complicated DUI punishment is that it will serve as a deterrent for those who have to go through the process. A part of this is an educational program, including meetings where participants have to discuss what they did, why they did it, and whether or not they feel like they need help not doing it again.

“”Getting through this three-month program will be the worst,”” Mike said. “”It’s such a pain. All the programs want to label you. They talk about helping you, but then they label you, and it doesn’t do anything. You can’t just be some kid who messed up. They have to analyze your family.””

The time that you have to commit in dealing with court dates, meetings, lawyers and classes can be extremely time-consuming as well.

“”[Dealing with the DUI] was pretty much all I did fall quarter,”” Sara said. “”The DMV gave me a choice. I could either go without a license for four months, or I could go one month and then have a restricted license for four months.””

The restricted license meant that she could drive to school and to work, but that was it.

Additionally, the courts restricted her license for three months.

“”My arrest was Sept. 22, 2000,”” said Sara. “”I’m estimating that I’ll be driving again by the middle of June. That means I’ll be driving by summer, which will be cool.””

Decide for Yourself

Most of us have been there, or will be some day. Deciding to drive when you’ve been drinking doesn’t make you a bad person, but, according to Mike and Sara, if you get caught, it’s the worst thing in the world.

“”The people at the DMV are so rude to me now,”” Mike said. “”I called the other day to ask about my license, and the lady was nice until she pulled up my record. Then she became extremely rude. When I asked to speak to someone else, she agreed and then hung up on me. I couldn’t get anyone to help me.””

Socially, the stigma of having a DUI on your record is difficult.

“”The issue of the punishment isn’t so bad,”” Sara said. “”It’s having it on my record. It’s the stigma that is attached to drunk driving.””

Because a DUI arrest and conviction goes on your permanant record, it can hinder you when you apply for jobs and to graduate schools.

“”When I apply to graduate school, this is going to be there,”” Mike said. “”If the school I apply to doesn’t look, great. If they do, I’m screwed.””

Altogether, the cost of a DUI really doesn’t measure up to the annoyance of having a designated driver or getting a taxi. Additionally, if you were to accidently inflict damage on someone else, the guilt and the stigma are extremely difficult to live with.

“”A taxi ride would have been five bucks. [What I did] was so not worth it,”” Sara said.

*Names have been changed.