Answers to common questions like: How do I avoid a DUI in the Cotton State? Can I sue a drunk driver for damages?
Alabama has the 5th highest rate of impaired driving deaths in the United States.
The Cotton State has done its best to reduce this number by passing and enforcing tough penalties for driving under the influence (DUI).
In this article, we’ll take a look at Alabama’s DUI and dram shop laws, as well as how these laws may impact your personal injury claim if you or a loved one are injured by a drunk driver.
What is the legal limit in Alabama?
In Alabama, you can be charged with DUI if any of the following are true:
- You have a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher and you’re an adult (21 and over)
- You have a BAC of 0.02% or higher and you’re a minor (under 21)
- You’re under the influence of alcohol to a degree that renders you incapable of driving safely (even if you have consumed less than the legal limit)
- You’re under the influence of any substance (marijuana, cocaine, sleeping aids, etc.) which renders you incapable of driving safely
How much alcohol you can consume and safely operate a motor vehicle depends on a number of factors, including your height, weight, and the amount of food you consumed. The safest policy is not to drive after consuming any alcohol.
With that being said, here’s a very rough guide to help you determine when you should call a cab based on gender and bodyweight (since these qualities are key factors that can affect impairment):
Evidence that may be used to support a decision that you’re driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs may include:
- Erratic driving
- Poor performance on a field sobriety test
- Slurred speech
- Odd behavior
- An admission of being impaired
What are the penalties for driving under the influence in Alabama?
The penalty for driving under the influence in Alabama depends, in large part, on how many convictions you’ve had within the last 10 years.
Here’s a look at the possible punishments:
|Alabama DUI penalties|
|Offense||Jail||Fines||License suspension||Ignition interlock device|
|1st offense||Up to 1 year||$600-$2,100||90 days||6 months in most cases|
|2nd offense||5 days to 1 year||$1,100-$5,100||1 year||2 years in most cases|
|3rd offense||60 days to 1 year||$2,100-$10,100||3 years||3 years in most cases|
Of course, these punishments don’t include the indirect cost of a DUI. For some people, a DUI may result in the loss of their job. For others who are involved in an accident that results in injury or death, the guilt is often the worst part.
In an article entitled "I Drove Drunk and Killed Three People"—originally published in the January 2005 issue of Cosmopolitan—author Nicole Lafreniere writes:
“The morning after the crash, I woke up in an intensive-care unit, hooked up to machines and monitors, with a 6-inch wound on my belly from emergency surgery. I remember seeing my friend Melissa come into focus, standing next to the bed. She looked devastated. ‘Nicole, not everyone is OK,’ she said softly, staring right into my eyes. ‘Not everyone is OK,’ she repeated.”
Do I have to agree to a breathalyzer?
Alabama's implied consent law states that any person who operates a vehicle within the state is deemed to have consented to a blood, breath, or urine test to measure BAC so long as that person is lawfully arrested for an offense.
If the driver refuses, their license will be immediately suspended for at least 90 days. What’s more, the fact that the driver refused the test can be used against them in any future DUI trial.
How to spot (and avoid) a drunk driver
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has compiled some common signs of driving while under the influence to help you spot a drunk driver:
- Quick acceleration or deceleration
- Weaving or zig-zagging across the road
- Driving anywhere other than on a road designated for vehicles
- Almost striking an object, curb, or vehicle
- Stopping without cause or erratic braking
- Drifting in and out of traffic lanes
- Signaling that is inconsistent with the driver’s actions
- Slow response to traffic signals
- Straddling the center lane marker
- Driving with headlights off at night
- Driving slower than 10 mph below the speed limit
- Turning abruptly or illegally
- Driving into opposing traffic on the wrong side of the road
If you spot a drunk driver, pull over or safely distance yourself from the driver. Once you’re safe, call the police and report the drunk driver. Be prepared to tell the police the location of the driver, as well as any identifying information (make and model of vehicle, license plate number, etc.).
How does a DUI impact a personal injury lawsuit?
If you’re involved in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, you have 3 options to recover damages:
- File an insurance claim against the at-fault driver
- File an insurance claim with your own insurance company (your insurance company will then seek reimbursement from the at-fault driver’s insurance company), or
- File a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
In all of the situations above, you’ll need to prove that the drunk driver caused the accident in order to recover damages. If the driver received a DUI, then you’ll probably have an easier time proving liability but there are no guarantees. It’s certainly possible for a sober driver to cause an accident with a drunk driver.
Alabama dram shop law
Alabama’s dram shop law can be found in Alabama Code Section 6-5-71. In short, the law holds that a person or establishment (restaurant, bar, etc.) can be held liable for damages caused by an intoxicated person if the following 3 things can be proven:
- The person or establishment provided alcohol to a person who was “apparently under the influence” or under the legal drinking age,
- The person consumed the alcohol, and
- The consumption of alcohol was the cause of the injury, death, or property damage.
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
Henry is a student at the University of Alabama. He meets some friends at the Tide Tavern near campus and proceeds to drink several beers. Although he is visibly intoxicated (slurring his words and stumbling up to the bar), the bartender continues to serve him.
Despite urging from his friends, Henry refuses a cab and drives home. On the way home, he hits a pedestrian at a crosswalk and kills her.
In the above example, the family of the deceased pedestrian would be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the Tide Tavern (as well as against Henry) under Alabama’s dram shop law.
Lucinda allows her 16-year-old daughter, Emily, to have a party at her house. Wanting to be considered a “cool” mother, she purchases a keg for the underage partygoers.
Emily’s best friend Allison has too much to drink at the party and runs a red light on the way home. She collides with a vehicle driven by Marcus, who suffers a serious brain injury as a result of the accident.
In the above example, Marcus would be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against Allison, as well as Emily’s mother Lucinda, under Alabama’s dram shop law.