DUI— What is it and What are the Consequences of Getting One?

Last Updated: October 19, 2021

Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs is incredibly dangerous. The effects of alcohol on the body become more visible as you drink more.
The drinks starts to affect the brain in the following ways as soon as you take in any alcohol:

  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased motor skills/ poor physical coordination
  • Slowed reaction time (slowed reflexes)

Tragically, 10,265 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2015. This is according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Currently, impaired driving accounts for 29 percent of all motor vehicle crashes.

What is the Definition of DUI?

DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence (of drugs or alcohol). Any person caught driving a vehicle with a blood-alcohol level that exceeds the legal limit will get a DUI charge. This offense has different names:

  • DWI, or Driving While Intoxicated;
  • OWI, or Operating While Impaired;
  • OVUI, or Operating Under the Influence;
  • OVWI, or Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated

Of course, it all depends on the jurisdiction. In many states, driving under the influence is a criminal offense. However, there are some states such as New Jersey and Wisconsin, in which a DUI is not a criminal offense. It is a traffic violation.

What is BAC?

Driving Under the Influence_2The Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level of .1 means that .1% of the blood inside a person’s body is alcohol. In the United States, a person is considered legally intoxicated if his or her BAC is .08 or above. For example, the driver of a vehicle might register as having a BAC level of .08 or more. As a result, he or she will get a DUI, DWI, or OWI charge “per se”. This means the state has no legal obligation to provide any other form of proof. It is clear the person was intoxicated while operating a vehicle. In fact, in some states, there are harsher penalties when a person’s BAC exceeds a certain level.

Can One get a DUI if Their BAC is under .08?

Yes. Under certain circumstances, a person can get a DUI even if they blow under a .08. Many drivers think that if they blow under a .08 that they are “safe” from getting a DUI. However, the state might be able to prove a person was abnormal enough to be a danger to other people. Then, that person could potentially get a DUI or DWI conviction. Many states have “zero tolerance” laws. This make it illegal for minors to operate a vehicle with any amount of alcohol in their systems.

Drunk Driving

A DUI charge has commonly become known as “drunk driving”. This creates the misconception that only people who act and feel drunk can get a DUI. Many people make the decision to drive after drinking from some conclusions. First, they “feel fine”. Second, they’re “not drunk, just buzzed”.
What these people don’t realize is that how they feel has absolutely zero to do with their blood alcohol content. A person with an extremely low tolerance for alcohol may feel drunk after just a couple of drinks.
They might have had these drinks over a period of time of less than two hours. Then, this person would more than likely be over the legal limit. Someone might have a fair to moderate tolerance for alcohol. As a result, the person may not even feel “buzzed” until the BAC is well past 0.08.
In addition to all this, the more a person drinks, the more his or her judgment suffers. In other words, a person drinking will never be fully capable of determining his or her own level of “drunkenness.”

DUIs And Other Drugs

In fact, the term “drunk driving” is a misnomer. It is entirely possible to get a DUI conviction even if no alcohol has been consumed. Some states differ in how they approach driving under the influence of drugs other than alcohol. An increase in “drugged driving” is a large reason why many states have changed the language of these acronyms. They went from charges like “Driving While Intoxicated” to “Driving While Impaired” or “Driving Under the Influence”.
The legal definition of “under the influence” is as follows:
Affecting the nervous system, brain, or muscles of a person as to impair, to an appreciable degree, his ability to drive a vehicle in the manner that any ordinarily prudent and cautious man, in full possession of his faculties, using reasonable care, would drive a similar vehicle under like conditions.

Can One get a DUI if They Are High On Marijuana?

Driving Under the Influence_3In many states, yes. DUI convictions are not as easy to obtain for this. For example, someone might have been operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana as opposed to alcohol. Then, the police pulls him over. However, the breathalyzer cannot detect the presence of marijuana. What do the police officers do?
The “per se” charges are less common when it comes to driving under the influence of drugs other than alcohol. Still, they do exist. However, the prosecution must prove that taking a drug made the driver mentally and/or physically impaired whilst driving. This happens in many states. This can be difficult to prove considering we cannot use science to determine the degree of impairment from the drug. Also, it’s hard to know how long the drug would have caused the driver to be impaired. Nonetheless, a DUI conviction is possible. We can do this with the use of blood tests, drug recognition experts, sobriety tests, and other tools.

Can One get a DUI From Taking Painkillers or Other Narcotics That Were Legally Prescribed?

Yes. This is just like a person can get a DUI from legally consuming alcohol. Someone can easily get a DUI conviction. This is if they can determine that he or she was driving while under the influence of a legal drug. Not only is this true for prescription drugs, but over-the-counter medications as well. (like Nyquil or Benadryl, for example)
Driving while impaired in any way is highly dangerous. A motor vehicle is a powerful machine. Therefore, one should not take the responsibility of driving lightly. Sure, the use of illicit drugs may result in harsher punishment. However, driving impaired is driving impaired. Will he or she get a DUI conviction? In the end, the legality of the substance a person uses has nothing to do with it.

Who is at Risk of Getting a DUI?

Any person who consumes alcohol and has access to a vehicle is at risk of driving under the influence. Subsequently, the police may catch and charge them with a DUI. Sure, this may sound like an exaggeration. However, the assertion is entirely reasonable. Here are a few reasons why:

  • The more a person drinks, the less capable that person is of making intelligent decisions. Even a person who says, “I would never drink and drive” is capable of making that very mistake. This is because it was the sober mind that said “I won’t drink and drive”. However, the impaired mind is not always as rational.
  • Not everyone processes alcohol at the same rate. Many people have come to rely on the “one drink per hour rule” in determining their own BAC levels. This is in reference to the idea that the liver can process one drink every hour. That is roughly 1.5 oz. of liquor and distilled spirits, 12 oz. of beer, or 5 oz. of wine. And maybe they may still remain under a BAC of .08. However, everyone’s body processes alcohol differently. A person’s “ability” to process alcohol depends on several factors. They include gender, weight, metabolism, the amount of food one has eaten in recent hours. Moreover, even external factors such as high exposure to sunlight might make a difference.
  • When drinking at a bar (where someone else is pouring the drinks), “one drink” may not be one drink. This is not to say that a server or bartender would ever intentionally be deceitful. The point is this: the math of “one drink per hour” has a lot of stipulations. This can make it difficult for a person to calculate his or her consumption accurately.

BEER: In the United States, a pint is typically 16 oz. of beer. A tall glass usually holds anywhere from 20 to 24 oz. of beer. If a person orders a tall beer, he or she may count this as ‘one serving’ of beer. In actuality, it should count as two. In following the “one drink per hour” rule, the beer would also have to be around five percent abv. This means alcohol by volume. Most beers range between three and 14 percent abv. However, there are many exceptions on either end of the scale.
WINE: Again, the “one drink per hour” rule assumes one serving of wine has a certain abv. For wine, the expectation is around five percent. The alcohol content of wine ranges from roughly five percent to about 23 percent.
LIQUOR: Even the most cautious people risk getting a DUI. This is because many bartenders pour drinks “freehand,” or without using exact measuring tools. A person could have easily been getting doubles all night without even knowing it.
In light of all this, a person can be as careful as he or she wants. They might do all the math in the world, and still wind up getting a DUI. The person might make the decision to drive after consuming some amount of alcohol. All it takes is one mistake or passing a police car.

Consequences of Getting a DUI

Driving Under the InfluenceDriving under the influence of drugs or alcohol can have innumerable consequences on the driver. Furthermore, it can also include the passengers, and anyone or anything in the driver’s path.
DUIs also have a major impact on society as a whole. More people die in road accidents than airplane crashes. Yet, people still underestimate it.
All laws and penalties for DUIs vary by state. In most states penalties increase with each offense.

Legal & Financial

  • Suspended license

If convicted of a DUI, a first-time offender will lose his or her license for a minimum of 30 days. In most states, the average length of suspension tends to be between three months and one year. For a second DUI, suspensions range from six months to three years. In some states, a third DUI causes the permanent suspension, or revocation, of a person’s license.

  • Fees/ fines

Fees for towing/ storage of vehicle

Unless someone with the driver is sober and can drive, they will tow the vehicle of the person arrested for the DUI. There is usually a flat fee for the towing of the vehicle (anywhere from $40-$200). In addition, there may be a per-mile charge. Then, there are storage fees and administrative fees. In some counties, impound lots charge up to $100 (possibly more) per day to store a vehicle.

Bail/ bond costs

A person with a DUI charge might not get immediate bail after the booking process. Then, he or she must wait for a bail hearing. This is where a judge will determine how much the defendant will have to pay to get out of jail. Of course, it depends if he or she agrees to be present at the next hearing. Bail amounts for a misdemeanor DUI offense can range anywhere from $500 to $10,000. Defendants usually end up paying a percentage of this amount either to a third-party bondsman or directly to the court. Usually, it is about 10 percent on the average.

Lawyer fees

A person with a DUI charge may chose to hire a private lawyer rather than getting a public defender representation. In this case, attorney fees and expenses can range anywhere from $250 to as much as $5,000. However, it can even be more.

Court fines and fees

Court fines typically range from $150 to $1,800.

Probation fees

If sentenced to probation, these fees can cost the defendant between $600 and $1,200.

  • Jail/ probation

In most states, a first DUI offense is punishable by up to six months in jail. Some courts will allow those convicted of a DUI to spend this time on probation instead. The exceptions to this case are Wisconsin and New Jersey. In these states, a first-time DUI offense is not a criminal offense, but a traffic violation. However, they don’t treat additional offenses are as such.

  • Community service

A person convicted of a DUI may need to complete a certain amount of hours of community service.

  • Court-mandated drug and alcohol education/ treatment

A person who has a DUI charge and conviction will most likely need to undergo some form of intervention. For example, they could be a drug or alcohol assessment and a substance abuse treatment. Evaluations can cost anywhere from $0 to $200. Treatment can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to several thousand. This depends on the level of treatment the staff recommend.

  • Raised insurance rates

A person’s driving record is a huge factor as to how much an individual must pay for car insurance. Therefore, if convicted of a DUI, a person seeking insurance coverage will most likely have to pay a higher premium. In fact, it will be substantially higher than before he or she had the DUI conviction.

In many states, it is not so easy to legally have one’s license reinstated after a DUI suspension. The convicted must have his or her insurance company file an SR-22 with the local DMV. An SR-22 is a document that shows the defendant has the proper insurance coverage.


Getting a DUI/DWI can have a significant impact on how people see you. This is especially in the academic and professional worlds.

  • A person convicted of a DUI/DWI could possibly lose his or her job. Of course, it will impact a job involves driving considering that person will lose his license. Even after getting a valid license back, the dirt is there. As a result, this person will likely have a difficult time finding work with a DUI on his or her record.
  • Most employers will run a background check before hiring an applicant. Seeing a DUI on a person’s record could easily affect the employer’s evaluation of the applicant’s character. For example, to the outside viewer, a DUI may indicate recklessness or a lack of responsibility.
  • Some schools have a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol. In fact, these schools often revoke academic or athletic scholarships.[/su_list]


People who drive under the influence not only put their lives at risk. However, there are also the lives of others who may be on the road or even nearby at the time. An alcohol-related crash may not kill someone. However, the injuries sustained by the driver and/or other vehicle inhabitants may end up being extremely costly. It may be in more ways than one.

  • Deaths caused by alcohol-impaired motor vehicle crashes account for 31 percent of all motor vehicle crashes.
  • One person dies every 52 minutes from a motor vehicle crash involving an alcohol-impaired driver.

Property Damage

Another consequence of driving under the influence may include damages to vehicles and other kinds of property. However, this may be incomparable to the pain and suffering caused by injury or a loss of life.

Impact on Society

$49.8 billion of the $277 billion in economic costs of motor vehicle crashes were the result of alcohol-impaired driving. This is according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis. They calculate these estimates by taking the following factors into consideration:

  • Lost productivity
  • Workplace losses
  • Legal and court expenses
  • Medical costs
  • Emergency medical services (EMS)
  • Insurance administration
  • Congestion
  • Property damage

However, this estimate fails to take into consideration the immeasurable value of lost quality of life. That could be the results from injuries due to alcohol-related crashes. They estimate the total value of societal harm due to alcohol-related crashes to be around $206.9 billion in 2010. You must take this into account.

DUI Prevention

Know your state’s laws

The laws regarding DUIs, DWIs, OWIs and other related charges differ from state to state. Educating yourself and others about the legal consequences of a DUI conviction can be a useful tool. It can prevent people from taking the risk of driving under the influence.

Plan ahead of time

If you ever plan on going out and drinking, someone might ask you how you’re getting home later. “I’ll figure something out,” is not an acceptable answer.

Secure a designated driver

You should take turns being the designated driver between you and your friends. This is one way of making sure you always have a sober ride home. Maybe, neither you nor your friends are willing to abstain from drinking. In this case, have someone you trust on standby to drive to pick you up after the night is through. Furthermore, it might concern you about being a burden by asking someone to pick you up. Just remember, anyone who cares about you would much rather pick you up. This is even at an inconvenient time. They would not want to see you wind up in jail, injured, or dead.

Utilize taxis, Uber, and Lyft to travel safely after drinking

After a night of drinking, maybe no friends or family members would be available to pick you up. Then, using a driving service such as Uber or Lyft can be a safe and economical way to get home.

DUI Tricky Questions (FAQs)

Can I get a DUI if I blow exactly .08%?

Yes, it is possible to get a DUI/OUI/OWI if you blow under a .08. Many states have laws that consider driving under the influence to be one count. What’s more, driving with a BAC of .08% to be a second charge. Therefore, blowing under a .08 may make for an arguable case. Still, it is possible to get a DUI or OUI charge and conviction if a person blows under a .08.

Can I get a DUI while riding a bike/ golf cart/ etc.?

Yes, you can get a DUI while riding a bike, golf cart, or another mode of transportation. Some states specify that a DUI or OWI involves a “motor vehicle,”. On the other hand, other states simply say “any vehicle”. Of course, it depends on the state. They could consider a bike, golf cart, go-carts, and other modes of transportation “vehicles”. For example, Washington laws define a vehicle as any “device capable of being moved upon a public highway… including bicycles”. As one can see, there is a lot of gray area with this concept. Are you capable of driving a golf cart on a highway? Yes, but not legally.

However, a police officer has the right to charge you with public drunkenness. This is regardless of any laws that may have ambiguous wording.

Can I get a DUI while driving on my own property?

Absolutely. It may seem like a viable defense in the case of a DUI or OWI. However, the reality is that most DUI laws do not distinguish between public roadways and private property. Driving on your own property doesn’t make driving under the influence any safer. Therefore, why should we treat it any differently than driving under the influence on a public road?

What happens if I’m driving while intoxicated and get into an accident that’s not my fault?

If they catch you operating a motor vehicle with a BAC over .08%, you will get a DUI charge. If you get into an accident in any way while driving intoxicated, they will charge you with aggravated DUI. In general, they consider a drunk driver to be reckless and negligent anyway. Therefore, it is highly likely that they would consider him or her at least partially at fault. This is regardless of what the “drunk driver” may report.

What happens if you kill someone while driving drunk?

Any person who kills another person while driving under the influence will face DUI/OWI/DWI charges. Furthermore, they will lose their license. Depending on the state, that person will also face some version of a manslaughter charge. If it is the driver’s first offense, they may charge the driver with reckless endangerment or vehicular manslaughter. In other states, it is possible for the driver to get a second- or third-degree murder conviction.

Can you get jail time for a first DUI offense?

Sometimes, serving jail time is a real possibility. However, most states consider a first DUI offense to be a misdemeanor charge. A judge may let the defendant serve a probation sentence in lieu of jail time. This depends on that state’s laws. Anyway, a person convicted of his or her first DUI should assume that they might be serving some jail time.

Page Sources

  1. Rosanna Smart, Karen Chan Osilla, Lisa Jonsson, Susan M. Paddock. Differences in alcohol cognitions, consumption, and consequences among first-time DUI offenders who co-use alcohol and marijuana. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2018 Oct 1; 191: 187–194. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6309328/
  2. Megan F. Dickson, Nesa E. Wasarhaley, J. Matthew Webster. A Comparison of First Time and Repeat Rural DUI Offenders. J Offender Rehabil. 2013; 52(6): 421–437. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4516123/
  3. Brett A. Ewing, Joan S. Tucker, Jeremy N. V. Miles, Regina A. Shih, Magdalena Kulesza, Eric R. Pedersen, Elizabeth J. D’Amico. Early Substance Use and Subsequent DUI in Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2015 Nov; 136(5): 868–875. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4943221/

Published on: May 9th, 2017

Updated on: October 19th, 2021


Leave a comment