DUI Laws: Understanding the Fines and Penalties

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Getting behind-the-wheel when impaired by alcohol or drugs is a serious offense.

Those convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) can face penalties such as license suspension/revocation, hefty fines, and even jail time. In some states, this may be classified as driving while intoxicated (DWI) or operating under the influence (OUI). We refer to this incident as DUI throughout most of the site.

The DUI penalties increase if deemed a habitual offender.

A DUI conviction may stay on your driving record for a decade or more!

The state typically divides DUI into two groups

  • Blood alcohol level
  • Officer observations

The punishments are the same no matter how they officer(s) conclude you’ve driven under the influence. The point is to keep the roadways safe from those getting behind-the-wheel while intoxicated by either drugs or alcohol.

The DUI Limit: BAC Levels and Impairments

State offers can pull you over under suspicion of a DUI for several reasons:

  • Speeding
  • Greenlight hesitation
  • Lane weaving
  • Driving slowly

The officer will check for signs like bloodshot eyes, alcohol odors, and physical behavior. If the officer’s suspicions are valid, you will take one of several field sobriety tests.

Anyone refusing alcohol or drug test will receive a suspended or revoked license in most states. This includes refusing a breathalyzer with penalties increasing if it’s a second or third DUI offense. Refusal to take these tests may also result in immediate jail-time.

The officer typically makes the driver take a breathalyzer test – checking for blood alcohol levels. Those failing will be immediately taken for holding and the vehicle will likely go into impound (more costs).

The BAC level minimums for a DUI usually are:

  • 21 years old and older: 0.08% and over
  • Under 21 years old: 0.01% and over
  • Commercial drivers: 0.04% and over

Medications may cause impairment, too, and aren’t exempt from sobriety tests and convictions. Be aware of your medications before getting behind-the-wheel else they’ll face the same penalties!

Additional sobriety testing may include you walking along a straight line, following the officer’s finger or light, and balancing. Those unable to show form will likely face DUI processing.

DUI Conviction: Penalties for First-time Offenders

The first DUI conviction is considered a misdemeanor in many states. Regardless, the repercussions are harsh and carry a variety of minimum penalties and fines for the DUI:

  • Fines: $400 to $1000+
  • Jail: Can include 48-hours to 6 months
  • Licensing: Suspensions for 6 months, 1-year for refusing a test
  • Probation: Usually 3 to 5 years

The driver may also need to have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle. Plus, take a safe driver’s course sometime between their suspension and probationary period.

Most states have a zero-tolerance law for anyone under 21 years old. Anyone caught driving over 0.01% will result in a license suspension, charges, fines, and educational classes.

DUI Conviction: Penalties for Repeated Offenders

Second and third DUI offenses carry heavier punishments:

  • Fines: $400 to $1000 plus extra assessments
  • Jail: 96 or 120 hours to 1 year (may include house arrest)
  • Licensing: 12-month administrative suspension
  • Probation: Usually 3 to 5 years

Though, these are different for every state. We recommend referring to our state-level DUI guides to get a complete understanding of these fines and penalties.

Injuries and Death while Under the Influence

Injuries caused by malicious driving while under the influence incur lofty fines and a misdemeanor or felony like those noted in the sections above. Fatalities cause by reckless driving under the influence can result in charges of vehicular manslaughter and/or murder.

Expect to pay high fines and serve time if you cause these incidents.

Getting Your Driving Privileges Back

Repeated DUI offenses may fall under a state’s“three strikes” law. This could result in mandatory prison sentencing – but this is typically reserved for items like major accidents, vehicle-related deaths, and the like.

Again, this depends on your state and their laws.

Those having committed a DUI offense will have their license suspended or revoked.

Besides fighting it with the help of a DUI attorney, your only real option is to wait out the probationary period and pay any associated fees. Drivers should refer to our suspended license guide to learn the general steps and requirements for getting back on the road.