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Pennsylvania DUI laws and what to do if you’re injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver
After reaching a 30-year low in 2017, traffic accidents and deaths across Pennsylvania rose in 2018, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Perhaps most concerning is the fact that alcohol-related crashes contributed significantly to the rise.
If you’re involved in a car accident caused by an impaired driver, you have the right to file a personal injury claim. This claim is separate from the criminal case that will likely be pursued by a Pennsylvania prosecutor against the drunk driver.
Let’s take a look at the laws concerning driving under the influence in Pennsylvania, as well as the steps you should take if you’re involved in an accident with a drunk driver.
Legal alcohol limit for driving in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, you will receive a DUI if your blood-alcohol content (BAC) is .08% or higher. If you’re a commercial driver (CDL holder), the legal limit drops to .04%.
If you’re under 21, Pennsylvania has a “zero tolerance” law, which means you will be charged with a DUI if you’re under 21 and have any alcohol in your system.
What about marijuana and other drugs
Driving under the influence (DUI) isn’t just about alcohol. In Pennsylvania, you can receive a DUI if any of the following is true while you’re operating a vehicle:
- Your blood contains any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance (including marijuana), Schedule II controlled substance, or Schedule III controlled substance, or
- You’re under the influence of a drug or combination of drugs (including over-the-counter medications) to a degree that impairs your ability to drive safely.
Implied consent laws in Pennsylvania
When you operate a motor vehicle in Pennsylvania, you automatically give consent to the Pennsylvania police to test your BAC level, so long as the officer has reasonable grounds to believe you’re driving under the influence or that you’re under 21 and have consumed alcohol. This is known as an implied consent law.
If you refuse to submit to chemical testing, your license will automatically be suspended for 6-18 months.
Some states, including Texas, have determined that sobriety checkpoints are unconstitutional under the state constitution. Pennsylvania is NOT one of these states. However, law enforcement must provide sufficient warning of sobriety roadblocks through newspaper publication or road signs. In addition, sobriety checkpoints must be in areas with a high number of DUI-related accidents.
What happens if you turn around right before a sobriety checkpoint?
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania looked at this issue in Commonwealth v. Scavello (1997) and found that performing a legal U-turn before a checkpoint is not sufficient justification to stop a motorist. Of course, it’s probably enough to get a police cruiser to follow you around for a bit.
- Approximately 28 alcohol-related crashes occur every day
- Approximately 18 people are injured in alcohol-related crashes every day
- Approximately 1 person is killed in an alcohol-related crash every day
Penalties for drunk driving
Interestingly, Pennsylvania has relaxed alcohol sales laws in recent years. For example, the state recently began issuing permits to allow general stores, such as grocery stores, to sell beer and wine. During this same time, however, DUI laws have actually gotten stricter.
Pennsylvania DUI penalties vary depending on the driver’s BAC and how many prior convictions the driver has. The following chart summarizes the range of penalties.
|DUI penalties in Pennsylvania|
|DUI levels||1st offense||2nd offense||3rd offense|
|General impairment (.08—.099)||
(.16 and up)
In addition to the penalties in the chart above, there are some other costs associated with a DUI that you might not realize:
- Vehicle tow ($50 plus mileage)
- Impound fees ($75-$175 per day)
- Attorney fees ($2,000 and up)
- Alcohol evaluation ($50 and up)
- License restoration ($25 for non-commercial and $75 for commercial)
- Insurance premium increase ($1,000 per year or so)
- Potential loss of job
Pennsylvania dram shop laws
Dram shop laws hold establishments that sell alcohol responsible for serving intoxicated patrons who later cause an accident.
Pennsylvania’s dram shop law states that an establishment will be liable for damages caused by an intoxicated patron if the following 3 conditions are met:
- The establishment sold alcohol to a patron who was “visibly intoxicated” or under the legal drinking age,
- The patron consumed the alcohol sold by the establishment, and
- The consumption of alcohol was the cause of the injury, death, or property damage.
Pennsylvania doesn’t recognize civil liability claims against social hosts who provide alcohol to other adults. However, the state does recognize claims against social hosts who provide alcohol to minors.
For example, suppose Erica, a 19-year-old student, goes to a party hosted by her college professor, Dr. Smith. Dr. Smith knows Erica is 19-years-old but serves her several drinks anyway.
On her way home, Erica rear-ends a car driven by Michael. Michael hurts his back in the accident and sues. In this situation, Dr. Smith can be held liable for the damages.
What to do if you’re hit by a drunk driver
If you’re hit by a drunk driver, you should call the police immediately. When the police arrive, be sure to explain that you suspect the other driver is intoxicated. Your statement may help the police officer establish the necessary reasonable grounds to administer a field sobriety test.
In addition to calling the police, be observant. Sometimes an intoxicated driver will attempt to hide alcohol bottles somewhere in the area or will make statements to others that could be used against them.
Once the authorities have been alerted and you make sure you're physically okay, contact a personal injury attorney. The driver will face jail time and fines, but you’ll need to hire your own attorney if you want to sue for civil damages stemming from the accident.
In Pennsylvania, you may be able to recover economic damages (such as medical expenses, property damage, and lost wages), as well as noneconomic damages (such as pain and suffering).
If you’re still looking for DUI information and help, the following resources may prove useful:
- Help to fight underage drinking and driving by supporting SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).
- Learn about strategies to prevent drunk driving from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Learn more about ignition interlock devices from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
- Learn how to reinstate your driver’s license after a suspension.
- Use our free online directory to locate an experienced drunk driving car attorney in Pennsylvania.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.