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The Financial Cost of a DUI

This article is not meant to be used as financial or legal advice for anyone who has been arrested for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. The costs associated with this offense vary greatly from state to state and situation to situation.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that an average of 28 people die every day as a result of alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents and that about one-third of all drivers will be involved in some type of alcohol-related motor vehicle accident within their lifetime. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 10,000 people were killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents in 2015, and more than 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

DUI Classifications

In the United States, any person who is 21 or older and caught driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher can be arrested for some type of offense that involves driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Many states may use one or more different labels/acronyms, including:

  • DUI: driving under the influence
  • DUIL: driving under the influence of liquor
  • DWI: driving while intoxicated
  • OUI: operating under the influence
  • OWI: operating while intoxicated
  • OUIL: operating under the influence of liquor

All of these acronyms refer to driving or operating a motor vehicle under the influence of some substance, most often alcohol. In some states, the DUI acronym refers to a lower level of impairment whereas being charged with DUIL or DWI refers to a more serious offense, although these designations are often meaningless and used interchangeably.

Costs Associated with DUIs

Any conviction of driving a motor vehicle while intoxicated is expensive. As the costs of court fines, hiked insurance rates, lost productivity, etc., add up, being charged with a DUI in most states is costly enough to equal the cost of the person taking a taxi cab across the country and back. The costs of getting a DUI vary from state to state and situation to situation. Perusing numerous legal sites can give an idea of the average cost of a DUI based on the types of expenditures that this offense incurs.

As a general estimation of expenses that are incurred for an initial DUI offense, one can expect the costs outlined below. Again, the figures quoted in this article are simply ballpark figures based on numerous reports. The actual costs incurred can vary greatly, depending on numerous situational factors.

  • Bail from jail can range from $100 to $2,500. Anyone arrested for a DUI offense should expect to be jailed initially.
  • Car towing or impound fees can vary substantially; as a general estimation, expect $100-$1,200.
  • Attorney fees can be quite variable. In general, for a first DUI, expect attorney fees to run in the neighborhood of $1,500-$5,000, even if an individual uses a public defender. Expect these figures to be doubled for subsequent offenses.
  • There will be fines assessed on the individual. These can vary substantially as well. For a first-time DUI, one can expect $150-$1,800.
  • In addition to fines assessed by the court, there will be other charges that can include fees for spending time in jail ($10-$300), fees for sentencing ($100-$250), and fees for probation ($200-$1,200).
  • Individuals who have to take random urine or drugs screenings as a condition of bail or probation are charged for these services. These fees can vary greatly and are often far more than $100 total.
  • In some instances, when individuals must perform community service, there may be a fee associated with community service supervision, which is typically under $100 but could potentially be much higher.
  • Some states have also enacted what are often referred to as driver responsibility fees, which are separate fees paid to the state when an individual is convicted of a DUI offense. It appears that they range from between $1,000 and $2,500 depending on the state that issues them. These fees are in addition to court costs and fines.
  • Most everyone convicted of a DUI offense will most likely be required to perform some type of treatment or educational class on substance abuse. The fees associated with treatment can vary substantially, and education classes can actually be fairly expensive. As a general rule, a figure of at least $1,000-$3,000 for treatment and/or education classes over the term of one’s probation should be expected. This cost could be substantially higher, depending on the program chosen.
  • Many states are now requiring that even first-time DUI offenders have their vehicles fitted with an ignition interlock device. This is a pretty hefty expense and typically will range between $500 and $1,500.
  • Licensing fees and license reinstatement can range from $20 to $200.
  • Many individuals will need to find some form of alternate transportation during this process. For individuals with relatives who are more than happy to bus them around town, the expense may be minimal. Others may end up using buses, taxicabs, or paying others for their gas. Obviously, this expense can be quite variable, but as a general rule, one can expect anywhere between $100 and $1,000.
  • Insurance companies consider individuals with DUI offenses to be high-risk drivers. Insurance premiums will skyrocket after an individual is convicted of a DUI offense. Expect insurance fees to increase anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000, depending on the situation, the insurance company, etc.

Based on the above information, one can expect a first-time DUI offense to cost them anywhere between $10,000 and $25,000 or more when the tally is finally completed. Of course, these estimates do not include potential financial losses resulting from lost productivity or time away from work. These estimates do not include complications, such as additional expenses that could be incurred with property damage, a motor vehicle accident, or an injury to someone as a result of a DUI conviction. Obviously, in these cases, the sky is the limit regarding the potential financial burden.

The reason why DUI offenses are so financially draining is because of the obvious danger that is present whenever an individual is driving under the influence of alcohol, and the need to try and deter individuals from drinking and driving. However, NHTSA estimates that millions of individuals operate motor vehicles while being legally intoxicated, and on average, an individual who is stopped for their first DUI has probably driven while legally intoxicated at least 80 times.

States with the Strictest DUI Penalties

WalletHub is based in Washington, DC, and a subsidiary of Evolution Finance Incorporated. WalletHub operates as a personal finance website but also engages in its own research related to personal financial matters. In 2017, WalletHub compared penalties and fines across 50 states and Washington, DC, to determine which states were the strictest and least restrictive regarding DUI offenses. The ranking use 15 metrics to identify the strictest and most lenient states for DUI offenses, but did not take into account the potential of a judge to reduce or suspend anyone’s sentence, fines, penalties etc. The metrics used in the ranking system included:

  • Minimum jail time sentence for a first conviction and second conviction per state
  • If a DUI offense is ever considered a felony and at which stage (e.g., second offense, third offense, etc.)
  • Minimum fines for first or second convictions
  • The length of time previous DUI offenses are counted on one’s record
  • Any additional penalties for high blood alcohol content levels
  • Whether or not an ignition interlock was a mandatory part of a conviction and when it becomes one
  • If an ignition interlock was a mandatory part of the sentence, the length of time the interlock applied to the offending individual
  • If there are additional sanctions for child endangerment or laws relating to potential child endangerment relating to a DUI arrest
  • Any administrative license suspensions for an actual conviction
  • If an alcohol assessment and/or treatment was mandatory upon conviction or arrest
  • Whether or not an individual’s vehicle was impounded after being arrested for a DUI
  • The average rate of insurance increase after a conviction
  • Whether or not the state had sobriety checkpoints
  • Whether or not there was a no refusal initiative for rapid search warrants for sobriety testing
  • Other penalties that may be enacted by the state in question

Although this is not a scientific study where statistics were used to determine the relative strictness of the state compared to other states, an overall ranking based on these factors was produced by the study. This overall ranking may help individuals get a better idea of where they stand in relation to other states regarding penalties and financial obligations after being convicted of a first DUI offense. This is because it can be inferred that states with harsher penalties are also most likely to be states that have higher costs associated with violations of laws. This would also be expected to transfer to other personal costs, such as an increase in insurance rates, therapy costs, etc.

The rankings were as follows (from strictest to most lenient):

  1. Arizona
  2. Georgia
  3. Alaska
  4. Kansas
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Nebraska
  7. Connecticut
  8. Utah
  9. Delaware
  10. West Virginia
  11. Colorado
  12. Virginia
  13. Texas
  14. Louisiana
  15. Washington
  16. Oregon
  17. Florida
  18. Nevada
  19. Illinois
  20. Tennessee
  21. California
  22. Arkansas
  23. Massachusetts
  24. Iowa
  25. Kentucky
  26. Hawaii
  27. Minnesota
  28. South Carolina
  29. New Mexico
  30. New York
  31. New Hampshire
  32. Alabama
  33. Rhode Island
  34. Missouri
  35. Maine
  36. North Carolina
  37. Indiana
  38. Wisconsin
  39. Wyoming
  40. Montana
  41. Mississippi
  42. Vermont
  43. Michigan
  44. Pennsylvania
  45. New Jersey
  46. Maryland
  47. Idaho
  48. North Dakota
  49. Ohio
  50. District of Columbia
  51. South Dakota

In the final analysis, no matter where an individual is arrested for a DUI offense, they can expect financial obligations that will most likely run into the thousands of dollars. Financial expenses can be draining, but may not be the most telling expenses associated with a DUI conviction. Most individuals can also expect significant issues with emotional distress, being inconvenienced, relationship issues, and the overall effects of a DUI conviction to linger on for years following an individual’s initial arrest. These emotional effects can affect one’s finances in numerous ways, including increased medical expenses, lost productivity, an extended need for therapy, etc.