Whether you are a newly licensed driver, a veteran behind the wheel or a lucky person who's avoided tickets all your years, the fear that you will be pulled over for a first-time infraction probably haunts you. And that fear will play out in the worst ways if you are ever pulled over for two of the worst violations -- speeding and drunken driving.
If the day comes when that ringing in your ears and the bright spots before your eyes are not a passing case of the vapors but the stomach-rolling light and sound show from a police cruiser, you'll want to know what to expect if you are hit with a first-time speeding ticket or worse, a DUI. We did some research to find out what penalties you could face. Take our advice: Avoid putting yourself in such a predicament and drive responsibly.
If you let that needle slip past the posted speed limit and into the danger zone you might very well find yourself pulled over by the mighty blue or khaki-clad hunter. Depending on your speed and your local area laws (Also Read: Worst States for Speeders), it is going to cost you plenty, one way or another. But if it is your first offense things could be a bit different.
There was a time, not so long ago, when one or a combination of the following could help get you a "I'm letting you go with an warning this time" statement from the officer:
- a coquettish smile from a winsome damsel
- a flash of flesh from a not-so winsome one
- a pleaded hospital, airline or toilet emergency
- a fire/law enforcement decal or license plate insignia
- a befuddled senior-age motorist
- or a dewy-newy driver
a ten dollar bill folded behind the driver's license
These days that kind of leniency is becoming a vanishing species. At a time when things are tough all over, they're getting a lot tougher for traffic law violators on our streets, roads and highways. Safety-focused state legislators and law enforcement officials are putting their fists down -- on your wallet and driving privileges -- when it comes to what it potentially could cost you legally, financially, professionally and socially to break traffic laws.
Speeding fines and penalties are, excuse the expression, all over the map; how fast you were going or where you were speeding (school zone or construction zone for example) and whether you are a first-time offender all factor in. More than half the states use a points system to record driver infraction data -- the more points, the higher the fines and possible jail terms.
Although Forbes Magazine reports that the national median for a first-time offender's fine is $200, many states are quite entrepreneurial in their penalties for first-time speeding-related offenses:
- In Georgia, first-time speeders can be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to 12 months in jail.
- In Nevada, first-time speeders can be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to six months in jail.
- In 14 other states, ranging from Iowa to Wyoming, jail time for first speed-related offenders can range up to 90 days, while a number of other states call for possible 10-day incarceration.
However, if youve been frustrated in wanting to see how fast your vehicle will go while minimizing how fast the state will deprive you of a license and living wages, be aware that Colorado, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Florida and Maine are having a Wal-Mart-level sale on speeding fines; $15 to $25 for first-time offenders. But don't tell them we sent you.
First-Time Drunken Driving Offenders
Now, for the heavy stuff: drunken driving, known as DUI or DWI depending on your state. In 2006 there were 15,201 alcohol-related fatalities; drivers with blood alcohol content (BAC) with readings of 0.08 or above. This booze-fueled carnage has led governments, law enforcement and other concerned groups to increase their emphasis on ridding the roads of drunken drivers.
The ongoing, heightened efforts of MADD -- Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Century Council (which is supported by the nation's distillers), are engaged in aggressive programs to stop drunken driving throughout the country. Their strategies include advertising, education and behavioral change programs. More importantly, serious lobbying for higher penalties has increased, including greater punishments for first-time drunken driving offenders as well as chronic violators. Fines, penalties, secondary costs and the total negative impact can get downright damaging, oftentimes irreversibly, for first-time offenders.
Depending on where you are arrested for drunken driving and how much blood alcohol level (BAC) your tests show -- plus any additional violations on your record such as reckless driving or speeding -- penalties vary across the nation. In many states, first offenders are treated quite severely. Here's why: Department of Transportation research from 2006 shows that 54 percent of all impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes were under age 34, with 13 percent between the ages of 16 and 20, making that new driver group most apt to be first-time DUI offenders.
MADD's Operation Memorial Day Court Monitoring Project mirrors national trends with observations in 11 states reflecting national data. It shows that the majority of drunken driving offenders are first-time "arrestees," not first-time drunken drivers, the average age of offenders is 21 to 34 and research shows that first-time offenders arrested for drunken driving have driven drunk more than 87 times before their first arrest. Two-thirds of those whose licenses are suspended for DUI drive anyway.
Even though first-time offenders are in for more serious punishment these days, most states still have a two-tier system with even more serious penalties for repeat DUI offenders and felony drunken driving crime.
Currently in all 50 states the BAC for determining drunken driving is .08 (for more details visit the IIHS DUI/DWI Laws page)
High BAC offenders, especially repeaters, are commonly sentenced to serve higher mandatory jail time such as Florida's nine months versus six months for lower BAC violators. Arizona gives high BACers 30 days compared to 10 for lower BAC offenders and, if you've had two or more for the road, stay away from New Hampshire. There, a .16 BAC can get you an entire year in jail, a full 365 days. Are higher BAC violators rare? Not at all. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that half of all drivers arrested and half of those convicted of DWI have BACs above .15.
In New York, for example, the two-tier system works as follows: DWI (Driving While Intoxicated or Impaired) is based on a BAC of .08 or higher, while the lower penalty DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired, which could cover prescription drug effects, etc.) is based on a .05 or higher (which might apply more often, although not necessarily, to first-time offenders).
|Driving While Intoxicated or Impaired (DWI)|
|1st - Misdemeanor||$500 - $1000||Up to 1 Year||Min. 6 Months Revocation/Suspension|
|2nd - Felony (within 10 yrs.)||$1000 - $5000||Up to 4 Years||Min. 1 Year Revocation/Suspension|
|3rd (within 10 yrs.)||$2000 - $10,000||Up to 7 Years||Min. 3 Years Revocation/Suspension|
Even if you get off with only that smaller DWAI fine in New York, do not believe other states are as lenient. Elsewhere, the hole in your pocket can be the size of a 5.9 hemi cylinder bore: up to $5,000 in Indiana, $3,000 in Minnesota and $2,000 in New Hampshire. The smallest listed fines by states are in the $300-500 range but generally include other penalties such as mandatory rehab attendance, community service work, an ignition interlock, loss of license for a period and even some jail time.
|Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI)|
|1st||$300 - $500||Up to 15 Days||90 Days Suspension|
|2nd (within 5 yrs.)||$500 - $750||Up to 30 Days||Min. 6 Months Revocation|
|3rd (within 10 yrs.)||$750 - $1500||Up to 180 Days||Min. 6 Months Revocation|
You might think, OK, I'll pay the fine, do my time if necessary and that will be the end of it. Sorry, Jack, this is only the beginning of the financial mugging awaiting you.
High on the list and invoice are your legal fees. To get a decent hearing, in these days of tougher drunken driving courts, you are going to need legal help even if you didn't damage or kill property, living or inert. DUI defense attorneys aren't inexpensive.
For under $1,000 you might get a lawyer to shake his head and your hand sympathetically as the judge makes an example out of you.
However, if you have a high BAC (and perhaps another infraction such as an associated speeding or reckless driving charge) you are going to want a knowledgeable, seasoned lawyer, one who has proven himself effective in getting DUI charges eliminated, reduced, or swapped for probation and/or community service. Some of these attorneys charge you a fee to review the police report, get a copy of your file from the district attorney and appear for your first hearing. If there are additional hearings, you will be charged for each. Some attorneys will charge you a fee and handle your case all the way to trial, but not the trial itself. Some DUI lawyers will charge you a fee that includes going to trial as well. Finally, some DUI lawyers simply charge by the hour. In addition to these charges, you may be charged fees for each day of trial, which could range from $500 to several thousand dollars per day. Although attorneys will generally not quote a flat fee for DUI defense, this level of representation can run into tens of thousands of dollars.
It is also possible that in addition to the legal fees, you may be responsible for the costs of an investigator to examine the situation and dispute the arresting officer's story, plus the possible costs of additional expert witnesses to dispute the complaint(s) filed against you.
The car insurance companies are in business to avoid loss, and drunken drivers, or those arrested for DUI, represent potential profit drains. Your automobile liability insurance costs -- mandatory just about everywhere -- could, according to experts, double, triple or even quadruple because of a DUI, especially a DUI with a high BAC. Even if you are capable of paying a bank-breaking new tariff, you might still lose your insurance since a number of major insurance companies are ridding their files of drivers they see as risky and can drop your coverage even if you are found not guilty.
Loss of License
If you have to drive to work or need your car to make a living, some states might give you a provisional, limited-hours-and-destinations permit, but in many others, you get to discover the wonders of mass transit. Your license to drive, after a DUI conviction or similar, can be lost for a month, six months or even a year, and if you try driving without a license, plan to share some of your future time in prison.
Loss of Time
Finally, there is loss of your time. You could lose days, weeks, some say months of your time in legal meetings, court hearings, community service and/or jail time, all of which is not going to do your marriage, your relationships, your job or your friendships any good.
If you are a professional -- a doctor, an attorney, a stock broker, pilot, a teacher, even a politician these days -- a DUI arrest, not to mention a conviction, is most certain to affect your reputation, your standing in the community or group to which you belong, and even your professional credentials. Even if you are just the third cubicle on the right at the travel agency, produce manager of Safeway #376 or third camera assistant on the local TV news, your career track now has a speed bump in it, a DUI on your record that can stay there for years, potentially and/or actually damaging your chances for advancement and/or qualifying for a better job at another organization.
So when it comes to speeding or drinking and driving, you know that old saying, "think twice before doing something"? You might want to keep that in mind.