You should know not to drive drunk, but do you know what to do if you’re injured by a drunk driver?
Drinking and driving can kill you or someone else. And if you’re charged with an alcohol-related offense, it can change your life forever. Here’s what you need to know before you drive in New Hampshire — how alcohol affects your body, what your BAC is, and what to do if you’ve been injured.
You probably already know that driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence of other substances is not only illegal but also dangerous. If you became a licensed driver in the 1980s or later, you’ve probably heard the media talk about DWI more times than you can count. This is good and important messaging, but no matter how many times we’re told not to drink and drive, some people will continue to do so.
But those people will face serious legal consequences and their actions could result in severe injury or death to themselves, their friends or family, or innocent victims.
It’s simply not worth it.
Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is illegal in every state, but each state has its own set of requirements and penalties. We’ll take a look at how New Hampshire handles DWI and DUI laws, but first, let’s review the basics of what impairment is and how it affects your driving.
What is impairment, and how do you know if it’s safe for you to drive?
The quick and dirty answer: If you’re questioning whether you should drive, you shouldn’t.
Drunk driving is one thing, but impairment includes a variety of other substances that might affect your driving skills. Prescription medications, illegal drugs, cannabis, and over-the-counter drugs like antihistamines or decongestants could affect your concentration, reflexes, motor skills, and judgment. You should always read the fine print on a medication label and look for a warning before you drive. Likewise, even if there isn’t a warning, if the medication makes you feel differently than before you took it, you should not drive until it has worn off.
The media and prevention experts focus most closely on driving while intoxicated because we know that even a small amount of alcohol can affect how you drive.
Understanding blood alcohol concentration (BAC)
The blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, is the percent of ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, in a person’s blood stream. If your BAC is 0.10%, then your blood contains one part alcohol for every 1,000 parts blood.
The only way to know your BAC is to use a blood test or Breathalyzer. But there are several factors that affect your BAC, and each factor is individual to your body and its condition at a particular time. You can’t assume that because you and a friend had the same amount to drink that you have the same BAC — your bodies will metabolize alcohol differently.
By the same token, you should never assume that if you drink the same amount today as you did yesterday you’ll have the same BAC. There are many factors that can change how your body is affected by alcohol from one day to another.
There are 6 factors that affect your BAC:
- Amount of alcohol consumed
- Amount of food in your body prior to drinking alcohol
- How quickly the alcohol was consumed
- Your body weight
- Your biological gender
- Medications and medical conditions
You can’t “sober up” more quickly than your body allows. Your body processes approximately 1 drink per hour, and you really can’t hasten the process — you just have to wait until your body metabolizes the alcohol and you become sober.
Some people will drink coffee in order to try to sober up faster in order to drive. This does not work and could actually be more dangerous. The CDC says, “When alcohol is mixed with caffeine, the caffeine can mask the depressant effects of alcohol, making drinkers feel more alert than they would otherwise. As a result, they may drink more alcohol and become more impaired than they realize, increasing the risk of alcohol-attributable harms.”
Caffeine does not make your body metabolize alcohol faster or reduce impairment from alcohol.
In addition, consuming energy drinks along with alcohol or mixed with alcohol can mask the signs of impairment and increase your risk of injury.
How alcohol affects your driving
Alcohol affects both the central nervous system and the brain. Here’s how:
- Alcohol is absorbed through the walls of the stomach and small intestine. It passes into the bloodstream and is metabolized by the liver.
- BAC (blood alcohol concentration) is measured by the weight of alcohol in a certain volume of blood.
Even very small amounts of alcohol can affect how you drive. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration describes these effects on driving at BAC amounts below and above the legal limit:
|BAC||General effects||Effects on driving|
Under New Hampshire law, a measurable BAC of .03 or less is evidence that the defendant was
New Hampshire drunk driving laws
Types of New Hampshire drunk driving classifications
- Class B misdemeanor 1st offense DWI
- $500-$1,200 fine
- 9- to 24-month license revocation
- Required alcohol and drug abuse screening within 14 days of conviction and possible full substance use disorder evaluation within 30 days of conviction
- 20-hour Impaired Driver Education Program (IDEP), plus recommended follow-up counseling
- Refusal to submit to breath, blood or urine testing or exceeding .08 (.02 for driver under 21) result in administrative license loss
- Class A misdemeanor aggravated DWI
- $750-$2,000 fine
- 18- to 24-month license revocation
- Jail time that includes a minimum of 10 consecutive days; 3 days are in the county house of corrections and 7 days are in a state-operated multiple DWI offender intervention detention center. The maximum house of corrections sentence is one year.
- Class B felony aggravated DWI
- If the aggravating factor is a crash that results in serious bodily injury (to anyone, including the driver), the charge can become a class B felony.
- $1,000-$4,000 fine
- 14 days to seven years in jail
- Driver’s license suspension for 18 months to two years
- DWI, subsequent offense (second, third or fourth)
- $750-$2,000 fine
- Loss of license for three years
- At least 10 days in jail; three days are in the county house of corrections and seven days are in a state-operated multiple DWI offender intervention detention center.
A charge becomes aggravated DWI when it has all of the elements of DWI, plus one of these aggravating factors:
- Speed of more than 30 miles per hour above the speed limit
- Causing a collision with serious bodily injury
- Attempt to elude officials by increasing speed, turning off headlights or abandoning the vehicle during pursuit
- Has a passenger under the age of 16
- BAC of .16 or higher
It’s worth noting that penalties change depending on the number of DWI convictions as related to the time in between. The penalties above are for a second conviction between two and 10 years after the first conviction. If the second offense is less than two years from the first conviction, the penalty would include a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 30 days in the house of corrections, along with time in the 7-day multiple DWI offender intervention detention center. If there’s a third offense in 10 years, the penalties include an indefinite license revocation, jail sentence of a minimum of 180 days, a mandatory 28-day inpatient program at the defendant’s expense, and up to 12 months in the house of corrections.
In general, the person who drinks and drives is liable for the outcome of an accident.
However, there are situations when the server of the alcohol could be held liable.
The recent case Estate of Narleski v. Gomes, 459 N.J. Super. 377 (App. Div. 2019), which was a New Jersey case but would likely have a similar outcome under New Hampshire law, is a good illustration of how this works.
Mark Zwierzynski and Brandon Narleski, along with two of their friends, drove to a liquor store one evening and purchased beer and vodka. All four were 19 years old. The store clerk did not request identification and sold alcohol to the boys despite their being underage.
The group returned to Zwierzynski’s home, where he lived with his mother, who was not home at the time. Narleski drank two or three glasses of vodka and then texted 20-year-old Nicholas Gomes and asked him to stop by. Gomes drove over in his parents’ car and then drank two glasses of vodka and juice at Mark Zwierzynski’s house. Afterward, Gomes and Narleski drove to another friend’s house.
Gomes, who was driving, had a BAC of .16%, and Narleski was also drunk enough that he was slurring his words.
On the way, they were involved in an accident that resulted in the death of 19-year-old Brandon Narleski.
Narleski’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the liquor store, Gomes, and Gomes’ parents. The liquor store then filed a third-party claim against Zwierzynski.
The trial court ruled that Zwierzynski was not liable to Narleski for Gomes’ intoxication. Zwierzynski did not have a duty to prevent underage drinking at his home because he neither owned, rented, nor managed the premises.
However, the court reversed its decision on appeal. It ruled that Zwierzynski could have prevented the drinking or could have arranged to keep Gomes and Narleski safe. The court said that an underage, adult social host can be liable if:
1. They knowingly allowed and facilitated drinking alcohol by an underage guest in the residence;
2. They knowingly provided alcohol to a visibly intoxicated underage guest or permitted the guest to consume alcohol, even if the guest brought it themself;
3. They did not take reasonable steps to prevent the intoxicated guest from driving; and
4. The guest negligently drove a vehicle and injured another person as a result of the intoxication.
How does this relate to New Hampshire law?
The laws in New Hampshire are similar to the ones set forth by the court in Narleski.
New Hampshire law provides that if a group gathers at someone’s home, the host has a duty to monitor their guests’ alcohol consumption. They are also responsible for ensuring that the guests are of legal drinking age.
If a person is injured after a host serves alcohol to a guest, the injured person can file a lawsuit against the host if they can prove that the host recklessly served alcohol to their guests.
New Hampshire Dram Shop Law
The New Hampshire Dram Shop Law indicates that a vendor (not a private host, but a business like a restaurant or store) that is licensed to sell alcohol can be liable for an accident caused by a patron if the business was negligent in serving alcohol to someone who was either already intoxicated or underage.
What should you do if you’re a victim of a New Hampshire drunk driver?
As in any car accident, you can file a claim against the at-fault driver. A DWI accident is no different. It’s important to bear in mind that any criminal charges for the driver are separate from their civil liability (i.e. the personal injury lawsuit). You, as the plaintiff, don’t recover damages from any court proceeding for their criminal action.
If you intend to recover financial damages, you must file a personal injury lawsuit. Your best bet is to seek the guidance of a qualified, experienced New Hampshire personal injury lawyer to determine the legal course of action for your claim.