You’ve heard the story before. Perhaps from someone you know. They’re driving home after a night out and the next thing they know, lights and sirens appear out of nowhere.
But that would never happen to you, right? You would never even consider driving after drinking too much. That happens to other people, people less responsible than you. You can tell when you’ve had too much to drink. Or can you?
According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, on average, it takes our bodies about an hour to get rid of just one drink. That means it takes another hour of “sobering up” for each additional drink you have per hour. It may not seem like it, but just a little extra alcohol can have a profound effect on your senses, causing you to lose your good judgment. It takes less alcohol than you may think for it to affect your vision, reaction time, and your perception of other vehicles in your path.
The CA DMV’s website provides an “Alcohol Impairment Chart” describing “BAC zones” (blood alcohol concentration), which you can use to help determine what amount of alcohol may be too much for you based on your height and weight. Keep in mind, though, that “one drink” actually refers to “a 1 1/2-ounce shot of 80-proof liquor (even if mixed with non-alcoholic drinks),” a 5-ounce glass of wine that is 12 percent alcohol, or a 12-ounce glass of beer with a 5 percent alcohol content.
Furthermore, what your body considers “one drink” changes when you drink “ale, malt liquors, fortified wines, port, brandy,” and/or any different proof of liquor other than those listed above. Even more so, your impairment increases “if you are drinking on an empty stomach, are tired, sick, upset, or have taken medicines or drugs.”
Most common DUI offenses
The most common offenses leading to alcohol-related arrests are California Vehicle Code 23152(a): misdemeanor driving under the influence, and California Vehicle Code 23152(b): driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher.
If you are stopped for suspicion of DUI, California’s “Implied Consent Law,” kicks in, requiring you to submit to one of two BAC tests, either a breathalyzer or a blood test. If you willingly submit to one of these tests and are found to have a BAC at or above the legal limit of .08%, you will be arrested for DUI under the above California Vehicle Codes.
If you are convicted of DUI, you face criminal consequences through the courts. In addition, the CA DMV takes administrative action against your driving privileges through its administrative license suspension program, “Admin Per Se” (APS), as an “immediate deterrent to drunk driving.”
San Diego residents should keep in mind that there are California Harbors and Navigation Codes that apply whenever you operate any vessel while under the influence of alcohol, including boats or water skis.
The criminal penalties for a “first offense,” misdemeanor DUI conviction with probation, not involving any other driving violations, may include: 48 hours to six months jail time; initial fines from $390 to $1,000; restitution fines of $100 to $1,000; a six-month license suspension; a three- to nine-month alcohol treatment program, depending on your blood alcohol level; installation of an ignition interlock device on your vehicle; and impoundment of your vehicle for up to 30 days. Cal. Veh. Code §§23538(a)(1,2),(b), 13552(a)(1), 23575(a), 23594(a), Cal. Penal Code §1202.4(b)(1). Your refusal to take a BAC test at the time of your arrest may further enhance these criminal penalties.
Criminal probation has its own restrictions in addition to the penalties stated above. The mandatory terms and conditions for the probationary period must include: a term of three to five years; not drive with any measurable amount of alcohol; not refuse a BAC test if arrested again; and not commit any criminal offense. Cal. Veh. Code §23600.
DMV administrative penalties
The administrative costs for a DUI conviction through the CA DMV are against your driving privileges and are in conjunction with any criminal penalties listed above. During the automatic administrative review process, the CA DMV will suspend your driving privilege for four months if they find the officer had probable cause for your arrest, you willfully took a BAC test and your alcohol level was 0.08% or more, and it was your first offense.
If you refused or failed to take an alcohol concentration test, there is a mandatory license suspension of one year. Additionally, a DUI conviction counts as two points against your driving record and remains there for 10 years from the date of the violation.
If you enroll in a DUI program, file proof of financial responsibility with the DMV and pay any restriction and reissue fees, the DMV may issue you a restricted license to only drive to/from work and the DUI program.
If you are thinking you will just move to another state to avoid a license suspension or restriction, consider California’s membership in the “Driver License Compact,” an information-sharing body that informs other member states of drunk drivers’ license status. Cal. Veh. Code §15000, et. seq. The Compact’s purpose is to give member states uniformity of jurisdiction, so that licenses suspended or revoked in one member state will not be issued by another member state. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators manages this Compact and California has codified its requirements in California Vehicle Code §15024.
Professional license consequences
Professionals have even more to think about. Those offenders holding professional licenses risk not only administrative and criminal penalties, but potential consequences involving their professional licenses to engage in their trade. For instance, attorneys face Bar Association discipline if their BAC level is excessively high on a first offense DUI or after a second offense. Similarly, doctors, nurses, pilots, insurance brokers, school teachers and even car salespersons and dealers face disciplinary action against their licenses or even be denied a license if their governing body determines it necessary for the safety of the public and their profession.
To help alleviate the occurrences of DUI and the possible multitude of effects associated with driving under the influence, the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) routinely use sobriety checkpoints. These law enforcement agencies use these checkpoints as valuable deterrents to drunk driving, to raise awareness of the hazards of drinking and driving and reduce the number of drunk drivers on the roads and alcohol-related accidents.
The SDPD maintains a DUI Enforcement Team whose members have received special training in the “detection and apprehension of DUI drivers” and who run the DUI sobriety checkpoints. Both SDPD and the CHP also work with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), as well as other law enforcement agencies within the county, to help prevent DUI driving violations and accidents.
The risks of drinking and driving can be financially devastating, as well. The California AAA states that today, the costs involved for a first-time misdemeanor DUI conviction could be in excess of $12,000. There is a DUI financial-costs chart for your review on their website.
If the criminal, administrative and financial costs are not high enough for you to think twice about drinking and driving, consider these final facts: according to the CHP, 50 percent of Americans will be in an alcohol-involved traffic collision sometime in their life; almost 23,000 people are killed each year in accidents linked to alcohol; and someone loses his/her life every 22 minutes in an alcohol-related traffic collision.