Frequently Asked Questions about Drunk Driving

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Drunk-Driving FAQs

Q: What is “blood-alcohol concentration” or “blood-alcohol level”?

A: Blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is the level of alcohol in the bloodstream from drinking alcoholic beverages. BAC readings are used in court as evidence in drunk-driving cases. The most common method of measure is a breath test, although blood and/or urine testing is sometimes done. A result of .08 or higher may establish a presumption of intoxication. The details of the .08 BAC presumption laws vary among the states, but all 50 states have adopted .08 as their official intoxication level, in large part because of a federal threat of otherwise withholding highway funds.

Q: Can I refuse a Breathalyzer® test?

A: Every state has its own version of an implied consent law providing that a driver impliedly consents to alcohol testing just by the act of driving. In many states, a refusal to take a breath test is itself a criminal violation subject to stiff penalties. For example, refusing a breath test might result in automatic drivers-license suspension or revocation. If you are ultimately found guilty of a drunk-driving offense, there may be additional penalties because of the test refusal, such as a stiffer sentence. Your test refusal may also be used as evidence against you in a drunk-driving case.

Q: Are breath-test results always accurate?

A: Some courts allow the defendant in a drunk-driving case to challenge the scientific accuracy of breath tests in general, whereas others may allow challenges based on the particular circumstances of a test, such as improperly calibrated equipment or inadequately trained officers. If the test results are inadmissible or can be challenged, the case will probably have to be proven based on other evidence, such as eyewitness testimony and field-sobriety test results.

Learn About the Reliability of Breath Test Results

Q: What if I lose my license but continue to drive?

A: If a person whose license has been revoked or suspended due to drunk driving chooses to drive without a valid license and is pulled over, he or she stands to suffer more serious consequences, including possible fines, imprisonment, forfeiture of his or her vehicle or extension of the license revocation/suspension. The more prudent course of action is to rely on friends and family for rides or use public transportation during a license revocation or suspension.

Q: How can I get automobile insurance after a drunk-driving conviction?

A: Although your rates will likely be higher, your insurer may continue to insure you even after a conviction. A subsequent clean-driving record may result in lower rates in the future. If your insurer drops you as a result of the conviction, another insurance company may be willing to accept the risk. In fact, some companies specialize in offering nonstandard insurance to drivers who have been convicted of drunk driving, but the rates are much higher. Another possible source of insurance for high-risk drivers may be state insurance programs created for just these types of drivers.

Learn How DUI Impacts Car Insurance

Q: What is the punishment for drunk driving?

A: Drunk-driving convictions carry serious penalties that vary some among the states. Although courts may go easier on first-time offenders, even in first-offense cases the possible sentences usually include stiff fines and jail time. If the circumstances warrant it, however, the court may choose less-restrictive options or a combination of options, including probation, diversion programs, community service, alcohol awareness education, abuse counseling, ignition interlock systems, home monitoring, suspension of vehicle registration, vehicle impoundment or in-house alcohol treatment. For subsequent offenses, the likelihood of imprisonment and the steepness of fines usually increase and in all cases the loss of driving privileges-at least temporarily-is almost guaranteed.

Q: How can I get to work if I cannot drive?

A: Many drunk-driving offenders are forced to rely on public transportation or rides from friends, family or co-workers for transportation to and from work during periods of license suspension or revocation. In some states, an offender may be granted a hardship license, sometimes called a limited license or probationary license, allowing him or her to drive just to and from work, school or medical appointments. Some states require an alcohol evaluation as part of the limited license application. If an offender with a hardship license is caught driving outside of its strict limitations, further penalties may be imposed.

Learn about DUI and Your Career

Q: What is the best way to beat a drunk-driving charge?

A: The best way to avoid being convicted of drunk driving is to not drink and drive. Use a designated driver, call a taxi, call a friend or don’t drink alcohol if you are going to need to drive within a few hours. For some people, even one drink can impair their driving abilities. However, if you have been charged with driving under the influence, an experienced drunk-driving defense lawyer can work to improve the outcome of your case.

Learn How to Beat a DUI

Q: If I simply intend to plead guilty, why do I need a lawyer?

A: Even if you did unsafely drink and drive, experienced legal counsel may be able to help minimize your legal problems and maximize your opportunities to move ahead toward a brighter future. A DUI defense attorney helps to equalize the balance of power between the defendant and the prosecution and works to preserve the constitutional rights that are guaranteed to all criminal defendants.

Drunk-Driving Resources & Links

About.com: Alcoholism and Substance Abuse
Links to articles and resources about drunk driving.

Impaired Driving Division – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 
NHTSA’s Impaired Driving Division provides information and resources on drunk driving from a legal and social viewpoint and with a goal of prevention.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Link to informational chart about the drunk-driving laws of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

Center for Disease Control (CDC) – Impaired Driving
Facts, data, publications and other helpful information involving impaired drivers.

The Century Council
A not-for-profit organization dedicated to fighting drunk driving and underage drinking.

American Council on Alcoholism
A national nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public and those with alcohol dependence about the effects of alcohol, alcoholism, alcohol abuse and options for recovery. Extensive information about drunk driving.

Alcohol Problems and Solutions – Drinking and Driving
Comprehensive, highly acclaimed Web site about alcohol consumption, alcoholism and drunk driving by David J. Hanson, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the State University of New York at Potsdam.

National Conference of State Legislatures: State Drunk-Driving Laws
A survey of the drunk-driving laws throughout the US by topic and state. This site also provides information regarding penalties for drunk driving and additional resource links.

Insurance Information Institute (III)
Hot Topic and Issue Update article on drunk driving.

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