You probably already know that it’s in your best interest to avoid drunk driving. First and foremost, anyone who drives under the influence of drugs or alcohol runs the risk of being hurt or injuring someone else. Second, there can be criminal charges. Third, there can be a significant financial cost to a DUI, in addition to any fines assessed as the immediate penalty.
In this article, we’ll take a close look at the immediate and long-term financial costs of a DUI.
Drunk driving laws apply to vehicles other than cars and trucks. You can also be charged with an alcohol- or drug-related impairment offense if you’re operating one of the following:
The legal drinking age is 21 in every U.S. state. In some states (like Utah), a driver could be charged with a DUI even if they have less than the standard .08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC), and commercial drivers could be convicted with a .04% BAC. In most states, a driver under age 21 can be convicted with any amount of alcohol present in their bloodstream.
Let’s assume for a moment that you’ve gotten a DUI and were fortunate enough that no one was injured, and you’re not being sued for a personal injury.
Even if that’s the case, there are going to be a series of fines and penalties through both the criminal court system and the civil courts that you’ll need to pay.
Here’s a list of average amounts that DUI offenders pay following a conviction:
|$150 to $2,500||Bail or bond||If you’ve been arrested for a DUI (or any offense), the court charges a sum of money in exchange for releasing you from jail. The amount required could be higher or lower depending on the severity of the offense.|
|$105 to $1,200||Towing||If you’re arrested for DUI, your car will be towed because you’re unable to drive it home. You’ll need to pay a fee to recover it from an impound lot.|
|$2,500||Court fees & penalties||For a first-time conviction, your court costs could be around $2,000 or more. In fact, the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs estimates that there could be additional penalties of nearly 3 times that amount. These fees could include costs for spending time in jail, sentencing, and probation.|
|$1,500 to $5,000||Attorney fees||Offenders who used public defenders for a DUI defense and those who hired private attorneys pay, on average, nearly $2,000 for attorney fees in a DUI court action. These fees are significantly higher for a subsequent offense.|
|$20 to $260||License fees and reinstatement||The DMV in your county will charge a fee in order to reinstate a license that has been revoked or suspended. In addition, you might need to pay for transportation during the time while you’re prohibited from driving. Depending on whether or not you have friends or family who can provide rides, if you can use public transportation, or if you need to use a rideshare service, these expenses could add up quickly.|
|$50 to $100
|Ignition interlock device (IID)||Some states require that even first-time offenders install an IID, which is a breathalyzer device that prevents the car from starting if the driver is intoxicated.|
|$1,000 to $3,000||Substance abuse treatment or classes||Almost every DUI offender is required to participate in some kind of treatment as part of their probation. The cost could vary substantially depending on the severity of the offense and the type of classes or treatment selected.|
|$500||Restitution||Some states require that a DUI offender pay a fee into a state fund to assist crime victims.|
|$25 to $400
|Urine and drug testing||Some courts will order a DUI offender to submit to urine or blood testing for alcohol and drugs on a weekly basis, or even several times a week. Many of these screens cost $25 to $80 per test, which could add up to an average of $600 per month.|
|$100 to $1,000||Driver responsibility assessment fees||In some states, you must pay a driver responsibility assessment fee. This is designed to prevent repeated DUI or other alcohol or drug-related offenses. Some states base the cost by the number of points on your license, and others have a flat fee.|
|$1,000||Insurance increases||Your insurance could increase if you’re in any accident where you’re at fault and even careful drivers have accidents. But a driver charged with DUI is considered a high-risk driver. Your insurance premium will increase dramatically after a DUI offense.|
|Total estimated expenses = $12,205|
Again, it’s important to understand that this is an estimate. Actual costs could be far higher (or a bit lower), but it’s definitely going to add up once you calculate expenses outside the initial costs.
Experts have examined a number of factors to determine which states have the highest penalties for DUI.
Ranking factors include:
Here’s how the states ranked for DUI penalties (from strictest to most lenient):
|10||West Virginia||36||North Carolina|
|24||Iowa||50||District of Columbia|
If you’re 21 or older and get caught driving with a BAC of 0.08 or higher, you can be arrested for an “under the influence” offense. But there’s more than just DUI.
More than half of U.S. states use the acronym “DUI” to refer to any drunk driving offense. Here are some other common acronyms and what they stand for:
Some states include separate charges for violations like repeat offenses, very high BAC, DUI with children in the vehicle, and other situations.
The legal fees associated with your DUI conviction are just the beginning of your financial costs if anyone injured in the accident files a personal injury lawsuit against you.
If you have a standard automobile insurance policy, it covers you for a car accident if you’re at fault and even if you were negligent. However, no car insurance policy will cover an accident caused by intentional conduct.
Depending on the provisions of your policy, the insurer might argue that drinking and driving is intentional conduct — after all, you chose to drink and chose to drive, both of which are intentional. The driver knew or should’ve known that drinking and driving is dangerous and involves a high risk of injury to another person.
The insurer might cover your own vehicle damage, but it’s unlikely to cover bodily injury to you or someone else.
If another person files a personal injury lawsuit, their lawyer might add a claim for intentional misconduct, and your insurance company won’t pay for that as part of your defense. That means you’ll need to pay that damage award out of your own pocket. The financial cost to this would be similar to what you’d pay an injured plaintiff if you were driving without insurance.
Car insurance policies include a provision that the insurance company will defend you in a personal injury lawsuit. The insurance company might hire a defense attorney for you in a DUI-related claim, but it’s probably in your best interest to consult your own personal injury lawyer. Your liability insurance policy might cover compensatory damages (those damages that are awarded to repay a plaintiff for medical treatment and other costs, in addition to pain and suffering), but it won’t cover punitive damages.
Punitive damages are sometimes awarded to a plaintiff as a way for the court to punish a defendant, or as a deterrent when the behavior is especially egregious or dangerous. These damages are in addition to the compensatory damage award and you’d be required to pay them out of pocket.
There’s no way to estimate the “average” cost of a DUI settlement. Every case is different and the amount of damages or settlement depends on the facts of the case.
However, most settlements or awards are based on these factors (and others):
Most lawyers are either criminal lawyers or civil litigators. You might need one of each for a DUI offense.
If you’re facing criminal charges, a criminal defense lawyer might be able to negotiate a plea deal or get you a reduced sentence. If you can’t afford a criminal defense lawyer, the court will appoint a public defender for you. Bear in mind, though, that most of the costs listed above as related to the criminal charge are fixed. If your state requires an IID for 6 months at a cost of $100 per month, your lawyer won’t be able to reduce that cost. Perhaps the lawyer could reduce the number of months, but many states have mandatory minimum sentences for DUI, and that could include those additional costs.
If you’re served with a personal injury lawsuit, you might wish to consult a personal injury lawyer. If you already have a criminal lawyer, they might be able to recommend one.
Your insurance company might be willing to settle with the plaintiff up to your policy limit. But if the claim is higher than your policy limit, or if there are punitive damages involved, the insurance company’s lawyer won’t be your best advocate.
The insurance company is obligated to defend you under certain conditions and within your policy limits. But its priority is to settle the claim at the lowest possible cost to itself — the insurance company. Your lawyer’s job is to advocate for you and to minimize the plaintiff’s damage award to cost you the least money.
The bottom line is that a DUI can cost a large amount of money, even under the simplest circumstances. There are a lot of factors, and what state you’re in matters significantly.
Enjuris offers a free lawyer directory that can assist you in finding the best personal injury lawyer for your drunk driving accident case.
Stanford University, Office of Alcohol Policy and Education
Bankrate, DUI 101: Here’s how much a DUI can cost you
Alcohol.org, The Financial Cost of a DUI
WalletHub, Strictest and Most Lenient States for DUI