Drunken Driving


man in handcuffs


Alcohol-impaired driving continues to be a serious traffic safety and public health issue for states. In 2018, 10,511 people were killed in alcohol-impaired traffic crashes, accounting for 29 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities. The total number includes 6,364 drivers (61%) who had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher, while the remainder were 2,969 motor vehicle occupants (28%) and 1,178 nonoccupants (11%)—such as pedestrians and bicyclists. According to AAA, nearly 1.5 million people are arrested annually for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

NHTSA data shows that in the last 10 years, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities have declined by 2%. Additionally, the national rate of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in motor vehicle crashes went from 0.36 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2009 to 0.33 in 2018, an 8% decline. However, no significant downward trend has emerged in the last decades and further sustained progress has been challenging to achieve.

It is illegal in forty-nine states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to drive with blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08 or higher. Effective December 30, 2018, Utah's BAC was set at a level of 0.05 or higher. If someone has a BAC at or above the legal limit, they are legally considered impaired. Some states have different legal limits for certain classes of drivers like minors and/or commercial drivers

Common punishments for conviction of a drunken driving-related offense can include:

  • Driver’s license suspension / revocation.
  • Imprisonment in a state or county jail.
  • Vehicle impoundment and/or vehicle confiscation.
  • Vehicle license plate confiscation.
  • Ignition interlock device (IID) restrictions.
  • Alcohol and/or substance abuse evaluations.
  • Alcohol and/or substance abuse treatment programs.
  • Monitored sobriety.

Ignition Interlock Devices 

Ignition Interlock Devices are installed in motor vehicles to prevent the car from being started if alcohol is detected on the driver’s breath. Most devices require frequent retesting while the car is running to ensure that the driver is not drinking once the car is started.  

Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring all offenders, including first-time offenders, to install an IID. An additional eight states—Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Wyoming—require high BAC offenders—trigger levels range between .1 and .17—and repeat offenders to install IIDs. Five states—Georgia, Ohio, Massachusetts, Maine and Missouri—require only repeat offenders to install the devices. The remaining seven states—California, Indiana, Nevada, North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota and Wisconsin— do not have any statewide requirements regarding IIDs, but judges have the discretion to order offenders to install one if they consider it necessary.

24/7 Sobriety Monitoring Programs and Treatment Programs 

DUI recidivism is a significant concern for lawmakers and enforcement officials. To address this issue, states have debated and enacted legislation that requires using treatment programs and sobriety monitoring programs. Judges have always had the option to use court-mandated treatment, which requires impaired driving offenders to participate in evaluation and treatment for their substance abuse issues. However, recent interest includes combining behavioral treatment with more punitive sanctions. One of these programs is called a “24/7 sobriety monitoring program.”

24/7 sobriety monitoring programs emphasize sobriety and require certain DUI offenders to submit to a breath or urine test multiple times (usually twice) daily at a designated site. Many programs also allow the use of breathalyzers, transdermal alcohol monitoring devices (ankle bracelets) and drug monitoring patches to monitor an offender’s sobriety when certain factors such as distance from or lack of access to a testing site make primary testing methods unreasonable. If the offender fails or does not appear for a test, he or she will receive swift, certain and moderate sanctions, which can include bond revocation, parole or probation, and incarceration for 24 or 48 hours, in most cases. 24/7 sobriety monitoring programs do not require participants to enter treatment. 

Currently, 14 states—Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming—have 24/7 sobriety monitoring programs or pilot programs at the state or county level.

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