What Are the Consequences of Drunk Driving?

Written by | Updated May 7, 2019

Drunk driving consequences are very serious. This is a potentially deadly crime, and law enforcement and courts treat it as such, even on a first offense. The consequences often get progressively more severe for repeat offenders, as well.

While the specifics vary from state to state, the basics are the same no matter where you live.

DUI arrest

DUI Penalties

Drunk drivers will nearly always have their licenses suspended. Even first-time offenders will receive a suspension in most states, though not all. After three or four driving under the influence (DUI) convictions, the driver can have their license permanently suspended, though a ten-year suspension is more common, depending on the state.

In some cases, the driver may still be able to apply for a hardship license to get to and from work, but this typically requires the installation of an ignition interlock device—a breath test that the driver must pass before they can start their car.

There are also fees and fines associated with DUIs, with the minimum average fine adding up to hundreds of dollars in most cases. Some states require mandatory jail time. These penalties increase for each subsequent conviction. There are also increased penalties in most states if the BAC is significantly over the legal limit. The drunk driver may also be required to participate in mandatory community service or education programs as a part of their punishment.

Some states require the installation of ignition interlocks even without a hardship license. In fact, more than half of all states have made ignition interlocks either encouraged or mandatory for convicted drunk drivers, including first-time offenders.

Is a DUI a Traffic Violation or a Criminal Offense?

You may be wondering, is a DUI a criminal offense? The answer is yes. This means it must be reported on forms and applications that ask about criminal convictions. A DUI may be classed as a misdemeanor for first-time offenses as long as there are no injuries resulting from it. In some states, there may be traffic violations that go along with it, adding to the charges—things like failing to heed a stop sign or traffic light. The DUI itself, however, is a crime.

Is a DUI a Felony?

A DUI can be a felony. DUI charges are generally classed as misdemeanors if it is the offender’s first conviction. However, in several states, the charge will be raised to a felony for repeat offenses. A DUI can also be classed as a felony on the first offense if someone was injured as a result.

The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony lies in the severity of the crime and the type and length of punishment. Felonies typically include crimes involving serious physical injury, white collar crime, and fraud. Repeat misdemeanor offenses can also be classed as felonies. Felonies usually carry punishments of at least a year in prison.

Do DUIs Stay on Your Record?

DUIs do remain on your criminal record. How long they stay depends on the state you were convicted in. In some states, it will stay on your record for 5–10 years. In others, such as Texas, there is no obligation for the state to remove it from your record—it could remain indefinitely. Check with an attorney to determine how long a DUI charge may remain on your criminal record.

Can a DUI Be Expunged?

A DUI can sometimes be expunged. Whether a DUI can be expunged—removed from your criminal record—depends on the state. Some states allow it to be expunged depending on circumstances, while others won’t allow it at all. Your best bet here is to consult with a lawyer familiar with local laws. They can help decide the best path to take if you want to attempt to have your record expunged.

Do DUIs Transfer from State to State?

DUIs can transfer from state to state. As with nearly every aspect of DUI law, it depends on the state. There is a program, known as the Interstate Driver License Compact, where member states agree to honor the laws of the state where the conviction took place, meaning that member states would uphold license suspensions and other consequences if you moved between them. States are not required to be members of the program, though.

Do DUIs Affect Background Checks?

Yes, DUI arrests and convictions will show on a background check. If a potential employer does a check, for example, those charges will appear.

Do DUIs Affect Employment?

DUIs could affect your employment. If your job involves driving, the loss of driving privileges will make you unable to perform your job duties, possibly leading to termination. Jail time may cause issues, too, potentially including loss of employment. Any DUI charges on your record may also make you appear less desirable as a potential employee, although they may not necessarily prevent you from finding a job.

Does DUI Affect Insurance Rates?

DUI convictions will generally put you in a higher-risk driver category, which could cause your insurance rates to go up. Some insurance companies may not even sell you a policy if you have a DUI on your record, and those that do are likely to charge quite a bit more.

If you want to keep your car extra safe on the road, consider purchasing a dash cam. That way, if you do end up in an accident with a driver who was under the influence, you can have a record of what occurred.