Those three beers at happy hour could turn into a $15,000 ordeal if you're arrested and convicted of drunken driving. There are lots of ways to get home safely.
At its worst, drinking and driving can be fatal — for you or for someone else. At best, a drunken-driving conviction will cost you thousands of dollars in fines, attorney’s fees and higher insurance premiums.
Ted Hollander, a lawyer who handles DUI cases at the Ticket Clinic, told Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson in the video below that a DUI can easily cost a driver $15,000. CarInsurance.com estimates a first drunken-driving conviction will cost at least $10,000. Watch the video, then read on for more information about the high cost of driving drunk.
Where do all those costs come from?
Initial costs and fines
Upon your arrest, you’ll likely have to post bail — from several hundred to several thousand dollars — which will be returned to you minus nonrefundable fees if you appear as scheduled in court. You may also have to pay towing and impound fees to get your car back, likely another $100 to $200.
Upon your conviction, you’ll pay a fine, which can run from the hundreds to thousands of dollars, plus additional court costs. For instance, the fine for a first offense in Texas is up to $2,000, and $10,000 if there was a passenger younger than 15 in the car.
You’ll be required to take a class on the dangers of drunken driving, and you’ll have to pay for it. In Florida, it’s $250 for a 12-hour class. In Connecticut, you’ll be looking at $550 or $750 for a 10- or 15-week program. Plus, there’s an additional cost for drug and alcohol screening.
Your license will be suspended, possibly for a year. To get it back, you’ll have to pay a restoration fee, which varies by state. In New Jersey, for example, it’ll cost you $100. In Minnesota, reinstatement costs $680.
The fee charged by your lawyer can vary by experience level, location and the complexity of the case. An MSN Money article gives a range of $250 for entering a guilty plea to up to $25,000 if you fight the charge in court.
According to Insurance.com, a DUI will increase your insurance by an average of 19 percent. However, the increase can vary depending on factors like where you live and your insurance company. A recent blog post on CarInsurance.com gave an example of a typical California driver who would pay at least $2,500 more per year. (Use Insurance.com’s “Uh, Oh!” calculator for an estimate.)
How long you’ll pay a higher insurance rate depends on your insurance company, but generally it’s no less than three years.
An ignition interlock is a device that records your blood alcohol content and allows the car to start only if your BAC is below a set limit. Installation costs $100 to $200, and monthly rental fees range from $70 to $100, according to IgnitionInterlockDevice.org. Regular maintenance and calibration cost extra.
Fourteen states require ignition interlocks after a first conviction. For example, Connecticut suspends a first-time DUI offender’s license for 45 days, then requires an ignition interlock device be installed in all of the offender’s registered vehicles for a year
Other consequences could drive the financial drain of a DUI way above the $10,000 to $15,000 mark. In a worst-case scenario, you’ll lose your job, particularly if your occupation requires driving. Also, a DUI could affect the status of your professional license to practice medicine or fly a plane, MSN Money says.
Those who keep their jobs could lose valuable work time attending to the requirements of court appearances, DUI school, community service, counseling and jail.
If you’re unable to get a hardship permit that would allow you to drive to and from work while your license is suspended, you’ll have to figure in additional transportation costs.
A DUI could also impact future employment. How long the offense remains on your record depends on your state, but in many states it’s permanent. A prospective employer will find that information in a background check.
Let’s compare all of this with the cost of a taxi, which I figure is $15, including tip, for a trip from downtown New Orleans to my home five miles away. That’s one of your options to avoid getting arrested on a charge of DUI.
Here are some others:
- You can schedule SafeRide America via its website to drive your car home if you live in the Atlanta or Tampa, Fla., areas.
- In Georgia, there’s a free Drive Sober app to find a ride home, sponsored by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
- AAA DUI Justice Link provides an extensive list of sober ride services around the country, broken down by state. Find a nearby service and save the number in your phone. The list was compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
- AAA chapters in many states offer Tow To Go and other similar services during holidays.
- The Taxi Finder app has a taxi directory and fare estimator for 40 North American cities.