The Real Costs of a DUI & How to Avoid Them
Driving under the influence has serious consequences, including huge expenses, jail time, injuries or even death.
Driving under the influence (DUI) is a dangerous mistake that could cost you. Even if you avoid a crash, you may be arrested and jailed. Further, your driver’s license could be suspended.
Expenses that come with a DUI can be huge. These may include fines, legal costs, and increased auto insurance rates.
Find out the real costs of a DUI, how you can prevent getting one or stop others from doing so and what you can do if you have a DUI on your driving record.
A DUI: What It Is, What It Means for You
Driving under the influence (DUI) refers to a charge given to an individual driving a vehicle while drunk or intoxicated. Certain states use the term driving while impaired (DWI), operating under the influence (OUI), operating while intoxicated (OWI) or operating a vehicle impaired (OVI).
Generally, these terms are often used interchangeably. However, operating has a broader definition. It refers to physically controlling a motor vehicle in motion or with an engine running. For instance, being in the driver's seat of a parked vehicle with the engine on while intoxicated could be considered OWI.
The FBI reported 575,746 DUI arrests in 2020. To earn a DUI, adult drivers typically need a minimum blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% — the federal cutoff for DUI. This means the concentration of alcohol in your bloodstream.
People have different tolerances, so a lower BAC may impair some people. It's best to err on the side of caution and assume you've had too much to drink before getting behind a wheel after consuming alcohol.
Dangers of Drinking and Driving
Drinking and driving increases the risks of a crash, makes driving more dangerous for others on the road even if there isn't an accident and can cause pedestrian fatalities.
The USA Road Safety Monitor 2021 survey by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation USA, Inc. (TIRF) found that approximately 65% of U.S. drivers worry about alcohol-impaired driving because of these risks.
Drinking impairs your senses, reaction time and control.
The effects of intoxication vary depending on BAC levels. Though BAC is affected by several factors, such as weight, there are general rules to knowing what your BAC may be. A 0.02% BAC, or about one to two drinks, may alter your mood and prevent you from making good decisions. Your coordination, balance, speech, and reaction time can worsen at 0.08%, about four drinks. Blackouts are often experienced by individuals with at least a 0.20% BAC level. A 0.40% or higher BAC may cause sudden death or a coma.
Drinking under the influence increases the risk of a crash.
With impaired senses and loss of control, a person who drinks and drives is more at risk of getting in a car crash. In 2020, there were a total of 36,355 traffic fatalities. Of these, 11,654 involves alcohol-impaired driving. This shows a 14% increase compared to alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in 2019.
Drinking and driving can lead to death.
About 32 people die in drunk-driving crashes daily. That means one person is killed every 45 minutes due to a drunk-driving crash.
Consequences of Drunk Driving
Impaired driving is a crime, and the consequences can go beyond injuries and car accidents. If you get arrested for a DUI, you may need to pay significant fines, lose your license, face higher auto insurance costs and experience other social punishments.
The severity of legal issues may vary depending on your history of DUI arrests and specific state laws.
Driver’s license suspension
In 48 states and the District of Columbia, a driver’s license may be confiscated by law enforcement on the driver’s first offense. This administrative license suspension may last for a certain period, including for life, depending on the number of offenses and other factors.
A person caught drunk driving may go to jail. The possibility of imprisonment increases if you cause harm to another person or property. Your conviction will be on your criminal record if you are tried and found guilty. Other people, including future employers, may view this.
Fines and fees
Getting arrested for DUI comes with expenses. These vary per state. Typically, it includes court fees, fines, civil penalties and license reinstatement fees.
A DUI may affect your personal and social life. Causing harm to others can be a traumatic experience, perhaps resulting in PTSD or lifelong guilt. Additionally, having a conviction may affect how other people see you, including your loved ones.
Most charged with DUIs have not been in a car crash. Despite this, their lives can be turned upside-down.
The federal cutoff for BAC is 0.08%. However, states may have different BAC limits.
Under “zero tolerance” laws, teens can be arrested for 0.02% or less in many states. That’s because a 0.02% BAC is generally the lowest intoxication level affecting the body and brain.
Commercial drivers may get DUIs for a BAC of 0.04%.
Weaving, drifting across traffic lanes or showing other signs of impairment may get you pulled over and, if necessary, arrested even with a low BAC.
In many states, you can also get a DUI for driving under the influence of drugs, including marijuana or cocaine.
Drugged Driving: Another Type of DUI
In most states, DUI isn’t limited to drunk driving. It also covers other types of intoxication, including illegal drugs and some over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Many drugs can affect a person’s perception and judgment. Despite this, the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that more than 12.6 million individuals ages 16 and older drove under the influence of illicit drugs in 2020.
Marijuana is the most commonly used drug among individuals who committed drugged driving. While marijuana is legal for medical or recreational use in some states, driving under its influence is still illegal. Like some other legal medications, such as sleeping pills, it can affect your senses, alter your ability to focus, slow your reaction time and even cause hallucinations.
Preventing DUIs can protect lives. It’s important to recognize signs showing someone may be struggling with alcohol use, including:
- Extreme mood swings or irritability
- Temporary blackouts
- Short-term memory loss
- Prioritizing drinking or making excuses to drink
- Secretive behavior or self-isolation
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Changes in personality
An addiction to substance use requires proper treatment. If your friend or family member appears to use drugs or consumes alcohol often, research what you can do and where you can find help.
What a DUI Will Cost You
A DUI arrest comes at a price. You may have to pay fines, penalties and legal fees. Your auto insurance rates will increase. The total costs associated with a DUI conviction vary from state to state. Many incidents and factors may also affect the estimated costs.
On average, it can range from $5,000–$55,000 over time. This doesn’t include medical expenses.
The Price of Driving Under the Influence
Various expenses are involved in a DUI conviction. Actual costs may differ based on the case or when the charge goes to trial.
MoneyGeek breaks down some of the most common fees to give you an idea as to how much the total expenses would be if you get arrested for DUI.
- ExpenseEstimated Average CostDescription
$150–$1,800 but may vary
There will be court fees assessed
on an individual who is arrested.
$1,500–$5,000 but rates vary by
You may need to hire an attorney.
You may need to post bail if arrested.
Since you can't drive if you're
arrested, the police will usually have
your car towed and impounded.
Other charges and fees
In some cases, you may have fees
for spending time in jail,
sentencing and probation.
The costs provided in the table are based on estimates for a first-time offender. Actual costs may vary per person, state and reason for arrest beyond the DUI, like an accident versus questionable driving.
Drivers convicted of a second or third DUI may be charged higher costs. There may also be other hidden costs.
Close to Home: Expert Shares Story About Losing a Son to Drunk Driving
The impact of drunk driving affects the involved parties and the people around them. An expert shares a personal story about losing a loved one to drunk driving to give insight into the importance of DUI prevention.
"Dustin was an 18-year-old boy, and as his parents, we thought we taught him everything we knew he had to know — no drinking until age 21, no drinking and driving, and don't get in a car with a drunk driver.
But at age 18, he made a fatal mistake. He was seat-belted and sober, but he was in the backseat of a vehicle driven by someone who was impaired by alcohol and under the influence of drugs.
They went for a late-night pizza two miles away from the home they were staying at. The car she was driving went 70 mph in a 35-mph zone. The car ricocheted off trees and railings. I can't imagine what my son was going through. It then went over a cliff and into a river.
I wanted to know everything. Did he suffer? Was he alive? Was he aware? The doctor told me he drowned. My son didn't die from impact — he drowned after the impact. Dustin knew he was dying, submerged in a vehicle he couldn't get out of. He was six feet tall in the back seat of a two-door car, and he couldn't get out. He spent the last 10 minutes of his life alone, trying to escape. That is what I will never forget. He must have been so afraid. And I wasn't able to comfort him in his last minutes. That is one thing I'll never be able to change.
I went back to work fairly quickly, thinking that was what I needed. But a year down the road, the pain was so severe in my heart I would lay awake at night. I realized I needed to take time off.
Of course, the emotional impact is forever. You learn to live with it, but there's always the empty seat at Thanksgiving, the empty basket at Easter. You have to get through those hurdles every year.
We all have a role in resolving this societal issue. We have to stop being complacent. We need as many voices as possible advocating for change."
"I Got a DUI...Now What?"
When you get arrested for a DUI, what happens next depends on the state, whether or not it’s your first offense and your BAC.
In most cases, you may need to secure a temporary driver’s license, proof of DUI program enrollment and proof of insurance. There may be additional requirements.
What You Can Expect After Being Arrested for a DUI
DUI is against the law and can lead to an arrest and conviction. Depending on the state where you got arrested, the laws may vary.
Typically, you’ll be taken to jail, get a day in court, have your license suspended, pay fines and be on probation or do community service.
If your DUI resulted in damage, injury or death, your penalties would probably be more severe.
After an arrest, you’ll likely go to jail or the nearest police station to get photographed and fingerprinted. Some states release DUI offenders upon payment of bail. Other states require jail time until a judge decides they can be released. It’s possible to fight a DUI charge. You’ll need to hire a lawyer if you plan on doing this.
You may receive a summons for a court appearance at which you'll enter a plea. To know the best course of action, hire an attorney. During the appearance, the court will present its evidence. Your punishment depends on state laws and the severity of your offense. You may be put under probation, serve community service or get jail time.
DUI arrest costs include court fines, attorney fees and other charges. You may also be charged for these if you cause property damage or bodily injuries. You can check your auto insurance policy to see if your insurer covers any expenses.
Law enforcement officers may confiscate your license. You may or may not be given a temporary license until a final judgment is made. However, your license may automatically be suspended if you refuse to provide a urine or blood sample or take a breathalyzer.
Getting convicted of a DUI can lead to the loss of driving privileges. The length of a driver’s license suspension depends on whether it’s your first offense and in what state you were arrested.
How to Expunge a DUI From Your Record
Expungement is the legal process to remove a criminal conviction from your permanent record. Having your records expunged means future employers or others may not be able to see you got a DUI conviction.
However, you aren't guaranteed an expungement if you go for one.
Laws for DUI expungement vary by state. The first thing to do is check if you qualify. Typically, a probationary component is required, and you must comply with the terms of your probation. Additionally, you can’t have pending criminal issues.
Pay all fines
Pay all the fines and penalties ordered by the court before applying for expungement.
Complete necessary programs
In most cases, a DUI offender is required to complete an alcohol or drug education program. You need to complete the program before you can proceed with expungement.
File a petition
If you’re qualified to apply for expungement, file a petition. This may come with filing fees. A judge will review your petition and determine whether to deny or approve your request.
It’s also important to check the state’s laws on expungements. A certain period has to pass between the conviction and filing of a petition. Typically, a convicted DUI offender must wait at least a year.
You may want to hire an attorney to ensure all legal requirements are met.
Dealing With the Car Insurance Hit From a DUI
Finding cheap car insurance after a DUI can be a bit challenging. That’s because auto insurance companies often consider those with DUIs to be of higher risk.
For instance, a driver with a clean record pays an average of $1,424 per year. Meanwhile, the average rate for someone with a DUI on record is $2,879 per year. That’s a $1,455 difference.
Typically, higher premiums remain as long as you have your DUI on your record. In most states, it takes about three to five years.
How Does a DUI Affect Your Auto Insurance Rate?
Plan on paying higher auto insurance rates for at least three years after your DUI. However, in some places, it can be five, ten or more.
You may lose eligibility for specific discounts, such as the good driver discount. Some insurance providers may decide not to renew your policy after a DUI.
You May Need to Purchase SR-22 Insurance Add-On
Most states require DUI offenders to have SR-22 insurance. This refers to an addendum to your car insurance policy that certifies to the state Department of Motor Vehicle or an equivalent agency you have adequate insurance coverage.
You usually need to maintain the SR-22 certification for one to three years. If you let your insurance lapse during this time, your license will probably be suspended.
The insurance company can decide not to renew your policy and SR-22 during the three years, in which case you will need to find another company to insure you immediately.
SR-22 car insurance isn’t an insurance product. It’s a form proving that the policyholder’s auto insurance meets the state minimum requirements.
Below are some situations when a driver needs to have SR-22:
- Driving without insurance or enough coverage
- Convicted of a DUI
- Committed several offenses or violations in a short period, such as speeding or reckless driving
- Driving with a suspended license
- Not paying the child support ordered by a court
Saving on Car Insurance After a DUI
Shopping around for car insurance can help you get the best policy for your circumstances at a fair price. You may also check car insurance discounts that may be available to you.
After a DUI, consider shopping around and checking rates from different insurance providers. Doing this may help you find better rates than what you already have.
Consider increasing your deductible
"Deductible" is the amount you must pay out-of-pocket when making a claim. Generally, a higher deductible can lower your insurance premiums. This may help in managing your monthly expenses.
Check discounts and special offers
Insurance companies may offer different discount opportunities. You can take advantage of these to lower your costs. Ask insurers what discounts are available in your area and check if you’re qualified to get them.
Conduct a coverage review
Determine if there are certain policy aspects you can remove. For instance, if you have an older car with low value, it may be wise to drop comprehensive insurance.
How to Avoid Getting a DUI
The consequences of getting a DUI can be severe. More than the expenses, it may also cause harm to you and others.
Below are some tips you need to take note of, especially after drinking alcohol.
Don’t drink and drive
No matter how much alcohol you’ve had, it’s best not to drive. While a BAC level below 0.08% may not be prohibited in your state, alcohol still affects your brain and body. You may not be as focused or alert.
Hire a driver
One of the best ways to avoid a DUI is not to bring your car if you know you’ll be drinking. Instead, ride a bus, hail a taxi, take public transit or hire a rideshare service provider like Uber or Lyft.
Have a designated driver
If you’re going with friends or family, appoint a designated driver. This person shouldn’t drink.
Spend the night and drive when you’re sober
Ask a friend or family member to let you spend the night. You may also book a hotel. Make sure you only drive once you’re sober.
Stop an impaired person from driving
If you notice a friend or family member trying to get behind the wheel after drinking, stop them by whatever means necessary. This can prevent them from getting a DUI and protect them against possible harm, or death.
Aside from being a responsible driver, you should also watch out for your friends and family. If you think they’re intoxicated, keep them off the road. Here are some strategies that can help:
- Talk them out of driving: Do your best to convince your intoxicated friend or family member not to drive. Be firm. If possible, try talking to them before they become too tired or drunk. You may also opt to keep their keys so they can’t drive.
- Call a taxi or book an Uber/Lyft: To ensure they don’t get behind the wheel, call a cab or ridesharing service.
- Convince them to stay over: If you’re hosting a party or get-together, designate a room to accommodate friends or family. This way, intoxicated loved ones have a place to stay until they get sober.
- Drive them home: You or another friend can drive your intoxicated friend’s car and take them home. That said, make sure the person driving isn’t intoxicated too.
Strategies to Prevent Drunk Driving
Various organizations, groups and state safety officials conduct campaigns and programs to lower drunk driving cases. These efforts can help make drivers more informed and responsible.
Awareness of public safety groups and law enforcement agencies' different strategies can help. Here are some of those you may need to consider:
Anti-Drinking and Driving Campaigns Aimed at Teens
Teen drivers make up approximately 3.7% of drivers in the U.S. Aside from being inexperienced behind the wheel, teens are prone to speeding, distracted driving and alcohol or substance use.
Thus, many organizations, schools and state safety officials developed tools and materials to convince teens not to drive while intoxicated or get in a car with someone who has been drinking or using drugs.
Zero Tolerance Laws for Teen Drivers
All 50 states and Washington, D.C. passed "zero tolerance" laws making it illegal for anyone under 21 to drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in their system. Usually, this translates into a BAC of 0.02%. However, some states have a zero-tolerance BAC level of 0.00.
Ignition Interlock Device
All states have an ignition interlock program. In 26 states, it’s required after the first offense. It’s mandatory for repeat offenders in 11 states. Meanwhile, this device is discretionary in two states.
These devices are installed in cars and measure alcohol on the driver's breath. If your BAC measures above a specific limit (usually 0.02 to 0.04, much lower than the legal limit), the car won't start.
The National Transportation Safety Board, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and others recommend the installation of ignition interlock devices after all DUI convictions.
In 48 states and Washington, D.C., your license will be suspended the first time you get a DUI. Usually, the suspension is from three to six months.
Most states allow limited driving privileges (for example, to get to work or school) after a limited period of complete suspension.
Holding Sellers and Hosts Accountable
According to the Insurance Information Institute, 42 states and Washington, D.C. have laws that hold commercial liquor servers liable for any injury, death or damages caused by an alcohol-impaired driver. Meanwhile, 38 states have laws allowing social hosts who serve alcohol to people later involved in a crash to be held liable.
This means someone injured by an intoxicated guest on the road after your holiday cocktail party could sue you. That said, the laws regarding social hosts generally apply to people who serve alcohol to minors.
Many states use sobriety checkpoints wherein police may pull over vehicles to assess drivers for impairment. Currently, 38 states and Washington, D.C. have sobriety checkpoints as part of their efforts against alcohol-impaired driving.
"Research shows that conducting regular highly publicized sobriety checkpoints can be an effective deterrent to keep people from getting on the road drunk," says Russ Rader, spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "It's a myth that these checkpoints have to involve a lot of manpower and are costly. They don't need to be to be effective."
Jail and Prison
Many states can put you in jail for up to a year for a first offense, though the sentence is usually lighter and can be waived in favor of community service. If there were aggravating circumstances — for example, a very high BAC, a car accident or the presence of a minor in the car — you are more likely to get jail time.
Technology That May Stamp Out DUIs Across the Board
Through the years, there have been various technological advancements to help stamp out DUIs. Aside from driving technology that could help make driving easier and safer, mobile apps are available to help prevent drunk driving.
One example is the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), which aims to ensure alcohol detection technology becomes more accurate, affordable and reliable. The breath and touch systems under DADSS read a driver’s BAC level.
Top 5 Apps That Help You Avoid Drunk Driving
DADSS isn't the only technology out there to help stop drinking and driving. Here are five apps you can check out:
- AlcoDroid: This app helps determine if you’re too intoxicated to drive by calculating your BAC level. It may also track how much you spend on drinks.
- Drinktracker: This helps you track your alcohol intake. Just log what you’ve been drinking, and it’ll calculate your estimated BAC level.
- Have a Plan: This app, launched by the New York State Governors Traffic Safety Committee and the New York State STOP-DWI Foundation, allows the user to locate and contact a taxi service, input a list of designated drivers and access information about DWI laws.
- SaferRide: This app allows you to book a transportation service. It aims to be easy enough for an intoxicated person to use without trouble.
- Uber or Lyft; These ridesharing service providers are great if you are too intoxicated to drive. Just input your desired destination and book a ride.
Expert Insight on DUI
A DUI conviction comes with a lot of costs. MoneyGeek spoke with industry leaders to provide expert insight you can use to better manage your finances.
- A DUI comes with huge expenses. Do you have any tips for drivers to help manage their finances during this time?
- What DUI prevention programs, resources or tools would you recommend to drivers?
- How can people with a DUI save money on their auto insurance policy?
Financial Data Analyst & Founder at Information.com
Founder & Managing Partner at Hendry & Parker, P.A.
Owner and CEO of VeryInformed.com
Resources for DUI Prevention
Various organizations, programs and agencies can help with DUI prevention. MoneyGeek lists down some relevant resources that you may find helpful.
- Alcohol Addiction Center: This offers resources related to alcoholism and links to organizations and institutes that help with alcohol addiction.
- Drive It Home: This National Safety Council site offers resources for teens and their parents, from licensing to preventing distracted and drunk driving.
- Governors Highway Safety Association: Learn about different driving laws in each state using the GHSA’s interactive map.
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: This organization offers a wealth of information about alcohol-impaired driving, including statistics and details on state laws.
- Mothers Against Drunk Driving: This organization aims to end drunk and drugged driving. Learn about the impacts of DUI, get assistance or find a lawyer.
- National Motorists Association: Find a personal injury lawyer in your state to help deal with a DUI charge. This nonprofit organization also offers legal aid, motorists grants and research grants.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: Find educational materials and links to various resources and institutes that could help deal with alcohol and substance use.
- National Organizations for Youth Safety: The NOYS website includes sections on injury prevention, including impaired driving. Find resources for substance use prevention and access state-specific fact sheets.
- SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions): SADD is a national advocacy group for teens who want to help save their classmates from alcohol-related car crashes. Find various initiatives and programs for responsible driving and substance use prevention.
- Teen/Parent Driving Agreement: Experts recommend signing an agreement with your teen before they get behind the wheel for the first time. Get a sample teen/parent agreement you can use.
- The AAA Guide to Teen Driver Safety: Understand teen drivers' risks, learn about the licensing process, and get pointers about staying safe on the road.
About the Author
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- The Administrative Office of the Courts – California. "Cost of a DUI." Accessed July 4, 2022.
- Traffic Injury Research Foundation, USA Inc. "TIRF USA Road Safety Monitor 2021." Accessed July 4, 2022.