Penalties for Drunk Driving Becoming Harsher

Not only is it extremely dangerous for anyone to drive under the influence of alcohol, it’s a crime in all 50 states and punishments have become harsher. Though penalties can vary greatly from state to state, more states seem to be coming to agreement that drunk driving is intolerable. In fact, across most of the U.S., hiring a lawyer is futile for those arrested for drunk driving because punishments have become state law.

The typical punishment for drunk driving is suspension of your license. If a driver refuses to submit to a breathalyzer test for blood alcohol level, the license can be removed even before the driver is convicted. Called administrative license suspension, this process is separate from drunk driving state laws, and has been found to deter drunk driving more successfully. Across the U.S., administrative license suspension is permitted in 41 out of 50 states.

All states agree on the legal level of intoxication at .08. In more than half of the U.S. (30 out of 50 states) a driver can lose the vehicle if they are caught drunk driving. In nearly every state (43 out of 50) neither the driver or the passenger can have an open container of alcohol in the vehicle.

While many states agree on open container restrictions and loss of vehicle, length of license suspension for a first arrest for drunk driving varies greatly. Drivers in Arkansas, Florida and Iowa can’t drive for six months after a first offense; however, a driver in Kansas or Missouri will have a license revoked for only 30 days. In Georgia, however, a first-offense drunk driver won’t be behind the wheel again for a year.

Contributed in part to aggressive action from groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, repeat offenders may face mandatory imprisonment in many states and bigger fines. Length of time for suspension of license is longer than ever, and it’s harder to get hardship permissions to return to the road. For those with three arrests for drunk driving, the Habitual Violator law means the offender is likely in most states to lose a driver’s license for good. Other penalties include the loss of civil rights, such as the right to vote or acquire a weapon.

Stricter education programs for offenders are now in place, including an assessment interview conducted by a mental health expert. The interviewer can decide what process is appropriate before the license is reissued, depending on the severity of the person’s drinking behaviors. In many states, the counselor can request a drunk driver to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or engage in a professional treatment plan, such as a 28-day residential program.
Some states also require a drunk driving offender to pay higher insurance fees before returning to the road, and the driver must also pay to receive their license back. It’s also becoming more common for offenders to hear directly from people who have been injured or lost loved ones in drunk driving-related accidents.

Stricter penalties across the U.S. are sending the message that drunk driving is intolerable and inexcusable, but most people who are arrested for drunk driving have engaged in the behavior several times prior to being caught. In addition, penalties can vary greatly from state to state, possibly contributing to drivers’ repeating the offense.