DUIs and DWIs: The Dangers of Drunk Driving
Author: Michael Muldoon | Published:
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DUI and DWI Statistics
While the amount of driving under the influence (DUIs) and driving while intoxicated (DWIs) offenses handed out every year has gone down over time, drunk driving still causes deadly situations for drivers on the road and the families of people involved in crashes.
- Accidents: Each year alcohol is involved in 1/3rd of all US traffic accidents.
- Deaths: Over 10,000 people die every year in the US due to drunk driving.
- Cost: Drunk driving has been measured to cost the US anywhere from $110 billion to $135 billion each year.
- Demographics: The ages of 21-34 were most likely to be involved in drunk driving incidents and men are much more likely than women to be found driving drunk.
Blood Alcohol Levels (BAC)
The level of alcohol in the blood determines the severity of the DUI in most cases. When tested, a .08% BAC is the legal limit allowed behind the wheel. Police officers can use a breathalyzer device to analyze someone’s breath and approximate their current BAC. The higher the BAC, the more pronounced the effects of the alcohol, and the less safe the driver.
Alcohol in the Body
Like anything else, the body tries to metabolize alcohol throughout the digestive tract and the liver. When drinking large amounts of alcohol, the liver gets overwhelmed and can’t properly break it down as it normally would. From there, alcohol makes it into the bloodstream and circulates around the body. As the alcohol interacts with different parts of the body, it elicits the common effects associated with drunkenness.
Dangerous Effects of Alcohol While Driving
The more drunk someone is, the less they can properly drive. Stereotypical effects of drunkenness like lack of coordination and impaired judgement skills put people at risk for a car accident if they get behind the wheel. People have different body types and as such, it’s difficult to provide clean cut answers for what’s too much to drink before driving and what’s acceptable. Keeping that in mind, there are symptoms of drunkenness that are enough to rule out someone from driving.
Tipsy and the Legal Limit
Before reaching the legal limit BAC, people feel the euphoria of being drunk and slightly lowered inhibitions. It’s rare for significant physical impairment to occur from this level of drinking. When reaching .08% BAC many people experience a slight impairment of their speech, vision, reaction time, and judgement. For someone small this level of impairment may arrive within a few drinks, while a larger person requires much more alcohol comparatively.
Past the Legal Limit
Once we pass .08% BAC it becomes clear why it’s illegal to drive. From .1%-.199% BAC, the drinker loses significant coordination abilities. At this point, speech is slurred and vision is blurred. Balance, which people use to accurately sense what direction they are driving and whether or not they’re in their lane is also significantly impaired. Towards the end of this spectrum nausea is common. Approaching .2% BAC is when many people might use the term “sloppy drunk”.
Past .2% BAC they’ll experience profound impairment and possibly unconsciousness. Nausea and vomiting are likely symptoms at this stage of intoxication. Alcohol poisoning usually occurs starting at high .2%, and mid .3% is where someone may be endangering their life with the alcohol consumption alone. The lethal BAC level is usually .4% which is accompanied by loss of consciousness leading to coma and possible death. The highest blood alcohol level ever recorded was a 1.480%, nearly 4 times the lethal level and it was found on a man who had just crashed his car.
It’s clear that levels of intoxication past .08% BAC provide extreme risks for operating motor vehicles. The more severe the impairment, the higher the risk and punishment if someone is arrested during their drive.
Why Drink and Drive
No one starts a night of drinking with the intention of driving drunk, but DUIs and DWIs always start somewhere. Oftentimes, it’s the way alcohol blunts people’s judgement that allows them to arrive at the decision to get behind the wheel. Interviews with people recently convicted with a DUI found that they may think they can’t stay the night at where they ended up, or that they need to give someone else a ride who has something important to do the next day.
Different states have different punishments for DUIs and DWIs. Most sentences carry some form of mandatory minimum in the form of either a fine or time in jail.
- Driver’s License: Most states suspend the license of the drunk driver regardless of the severity of the charge.
- Fines: First time offenders are charged hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars. Repeat offenders receive much heavier fines.
- Jail Time: Mandatory jail time is common in DUI cases. First offenders may only spend a day to a few days in jail, but repeat offenders spend 2 or more weeks longer on average.
- Education and therapy: While less common than the other punishments, some states are requiring offending drivers to attend classes that teach proper alcohol use and warn against reckless behavior like driving drunk.
Arizona caries the harshest penalties, where a first time DUI offense can result in up to 6 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. Many other states employ similar approaches to DUIs in order to dissuade people from making this dangerous decision.
While they’re in the minority, some states don’t punish DUIs as heavily. South Dakota is 1 of the 6 states that have no mandatory minimum sentencing and Pennsylvania doesn’t have a mandatory license suspension in place.
After an Arrest
DUIs and DWIs may feel like the end of the world, but they can also be the start of something fresh and new. Taking an honest look at problematic drinking habits is a hard, but necessary step in the journey of recovery. Unfortunately, it’s events like drunk driving and getting caught that wake people up to the ways in which their alcohol habits are governing their lives.
If you’re in this situation or you’ve driven drunk and not been caught, please reach out for help. Compassionate treatment providers have resources available around the clock that help you find your next step. Don’t face this problem alone, get help today.
Author: Michael Muldoon | Last Edited: March 31, 2021