drinking while driving

Driving under the influence (DUI) charges are more complex than most people assume. It’s not as simple as, “Well, you failed a breathalyzer test, so you’re guilty.” There are dozens of other factors involved – and chances are you aren’t as familiar with the details as you might assume.

1. BAC Limits Vary and Aren’t Always 0.08 Percent

While 0.08 percent is the standard legal limit for BAC in most states for drivers over the age of 21, this isn’t a universal rule. For commercial drivers, the limit drops to 0.04 percent in many states. Additionally, for those under 21, any detectable amount of alcohol can lead to a DUI charge in many places due to “zero tolerance” laws.

2. “Driving” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean the Car Was Moving

You might think you need to be caught driving to be charged with a DUI, but the definition of “operating a vehicle” can be surprisingly broad. In some jurisdictions, just having the keys in the ignition while being in the driver’s seat can qualify as driving, even if the car is parked. That means you could technically be arrested for a DUI if you’re sleeping in the driver’s seat of your car.

3. Law Enforcement Officers Aren’t Perfect

Police officers are human, which means they make mistakes. And depending on the quality of law enforcement officers in your area, they may make lots of mistakes when it comes to DUIs. That’s because situational factors and testing often create a challenging environment in which to get accurate results.

“Mistakes are routinely made by the police,” SBBL Law points out. “The mistakes range from minor mistakes, to failing to adhere to testing protocols, to errors amounting to a violation of your constitutional rights — like stopping you for no valid reason, detaining you without justification, or arresting you without probable cause.”

Field sobriety tests – like standing on one leg or walking in a straight line – are particularly important to keep an eye on. They’re used to establish probable cause for a DUI arrest. However, these tests can be inaccurate, influenced by factors such as physical impairments unrelated to alcohol consumption, poor weather conditions, or even nervousness.

4. You Can Refuse Some Tests, But It Can Cost You

Most states have implied consent laws, meaning that by driving, you consent to BAC testing. You can refuse a breathalyzer or field sobriety test, but refusal often leads to immediate license suspension and can be used against you in court as implied guilt. 

The time to research the laws in your state is before you ever find yourself in one of these situations. Once you’ve been pulled over, you’ll have to make quick decisions on the spot.

5. Penalties Vary Widely Between States

The consequences of a DUI conviction can vary drastically. Some states might impose heavy fines, mandatory jail time, or long-term license suspensions on first-time offenders, while others might offer diversion programs that, if successfully completed, result in the charges being dropped or reduced.

It’s also worth noting that a DUI can linger on your criminal record – possibly for many years. This may affect your job prospects, travel opportunities, and eligibility for professional licenses. In some states, a DUI stays on your record indefinitely, while in others, it can be expunged or sealed after a certain period. Again, it all comes down to the rules and laws in your specific state.

6. A DUI Can Impact Your Auto Insurance Rates Severely

Following a DUI conviction, you can expect your auto insurance rates to surge. Insurers see convicted drivers as high-risk, which can lead to increased premiums that come as a big shock to the wallet.

“The national average auto insurance rate increase for drivers with a DUI is 65 percent,” according to Forbes Advisor’s analysis. “That king-size rate increase translates to an average of nearly $1,400 extra per year for car insurance. By comparison, the average rate increase after a speeding ticket is only 22 percent and the rate increase after an accident with injury is 43 percent.”

In other words, you can expect to see your bills go way up (and stay up) even after you’ve paid all the fines and dealt with all of the immediate legal consequences.

7. There Are Numerous Defense Strategies for DUI Charges

Despite the severity of DUI charges, various defenses can be used. These include challenging the accuracy of the BAC tests, questioning the legality of the traffic stop, or proving that you weren’t driving. Each case is unique, so a defense that works in one situation might not be applicable in another.

Moving On After a DUI

DUI charges are serious, but they don’t have to totally ruin your life. With the right approach, you can go through the legal process and mitigate the long-term consequences as much as possible. As always, consult with an attorney for specific advice about your circumstances and situation.