You may know it as “driving while intoxicated” (DWI), “driving under the influence” (DUI) or “operating under the influence” (OUI). It’s also commonly known as “drunk driving,” and no matter what you call it, it’s a crime.
So if you’ve been charged with this common but serious offense, here are 10 things you need to know.
- It’s complicated. Being arrested for a DWI, DUI, or OUI means that you’ve been caught driving “under the influence” — but that could mean the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, or even legal drugs like sleeping aids. It also doesn’t mean you were driving a car. Driving other vehicles, like ATVs, golf carts, and sometimes even bicycles, can also be grounds for arrest.
You could be pulled over for driving erratically, but if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is found to be .08% or higher, you can be charged with a DUI no matter why the officer originally pulled you over. And in some states, any blood alcohol content or presence of certain drugs can be grounds for arrest.
- Insurance goes up. If you’re convicted of a DUI, you’ll probably be paying more to insure your car — you’re now a “high-risk driver”. Your current insurance company might even drop you. As if that’s not bad enough, a DUI conviction can also influence your life insurance premiums. But if this is your first offense and your driving record is otherwise spotless, your premiums may only go up a little.
No matter what, though, in most states you’ll need to obtain an SR-22 form after your conviction. This will prove that you carry liability insurance, and the form is usually required to get your license back after a DUI conviction. Only Delaware, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania will let you go without this form.
- It’s probably not a felony. Especially if it’s your first DUI, it will probably be classified as a misdemeanor. But in certain, especially severe situations, even first-time DUIs might be felonies. For example, you’ll be charged with a felony if you kill or seriously injure someone while driving under the influence, or your BAC is particularly high, or your license was restricted, suspended, or completely revoked before the event. And if you’re a repeat offender, some states will charge you with a felony even if no one was injured.
- Lawyers are essential. Once you’ve been arrested, you’ll likely have to go to court for an arraignment. At your arraignment, you’ll be formally charged, and respond to the charge with a plea of guilty or not-guilty. The guidance of an attorney before, during, and after your arraignment will only help you.
Experienced lawyers will be able to review your case, and advise you on the best course of action. DUI lawyers will know whether it would be worth it for you to plead guilty, go to trial, or if you should just ask for a plea bargain. Particularly if your record has been clean up until now, a plea bargain could reduce your charge to reckless driving, or something similar.
- Say goodbye to your license. Even if you aren’t convicted, being charged with a DUI is usually grounds for the suspension of your license. Usually the arresting officer will take possession of your license at the time of your arrest and replace it with a temporary one, which is tied to your DMV hearing. Each case is different, but thorough DUI lawyers will be able to tell you how long you should expect to go without a license.
As we’ve seen above, the legal consequences of being charged with and/or convicted of a DUI can be severe and long lasting. But outside of the law, drunk driving is still a serious problem.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), drunk driving costs the United States almost $200 billion every year. Someone is hurt by a drunk driving car accident every two minutes, and drunk driving is responsible for 32% of all car crash fatalities (31% stem from speeding, 16% from distractions like cell phones and snacks, and 11% are caused by dangerous weather conditions like ice on the road.