DUI & DWI in New York
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Why are the penalties for drinking and driving so severe? Because the impact of drunk drivers on innocent people is so catastrophic. The NY Department of Motor Vehicles cites these facts:
- Of all the fatalities in New York, one-third involve impaired or intoxicated drivers and pedestrians.
- As your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) goes up, so does your risk of a crash. You're four times as likely as a nondrinking driver to cause a crash if your BAC is 0.08%. With a BAC of 0.16%, you're 25 times as likely to cause a crash.
- Drivers who are under 21 are nearly three times as likely as other drivers to be involved in a fatal crash that is related to alcohol.
Sound depressing? It is. Drunk driving hurts the society that foots the bills, the innocent victims of inebriated drivers, and the drivers themselves. The economic and social impact pales only in comparison to the loss of life.
If you're cited for drunk driving, you're no longer in the realm of traffic court. This is a criminal offense, so you'll be arrested and then go to court to face a criminal law judge. New York prosecutes those who commit the following crimes:
- DWI: Driving While Intoxicated. This applies to drivers who have a BAC of 0.08% or higher or who demonstrate other evidence of intoxication.
- DWAI: Driving While Ability Impaired (by alcohol). Having a BAC of less than 0.08% doesn't mean you're OK to drive. You may be convicted of a DWAI with a BAC of between 0.05% and 0.07%, or if you show other evidence that you are impaired.
- DWAI/Drugs: Driving While Ability Impaired (by a drug other than alcohol). It's not just booze that affects your driving ability, so this law covers any substance that could make you a dangerous driver.
- Chemical Test Refusal. If a cop asks you to, you're required to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test to find out your BAC. If you refuse, at the very least your license might be revoked and you'll have to pay a $500 civil penalty.
- Zero Tolerance Law. It's illegal for anyone under 21 to drive with a BAC of 0.02% and above.
Notice the wording of the DWI and DWAI descriptions. Even if there is no chemical proof that you exceeded the legal BAC limits, if the police can adequately show that you were acting drunk it might be enough to convict you.
The penalty system is designed to motivate drivers who are convicted of one DWI to never drive drunk again for fear of losing their freedom. See how these penalties skyrocket after the first offense, and consider these consequences when deciding whether it's worth the risk to get behind the wheel if you've been drinking:
- First Offense: Misdemeanor. $500 to $1,000 fine, up to one year in jail, and a minimum 6-month license revocation.
- Second Offense (within 10 years): Felony. $1,000 to $5,000 fine, up to four years in jail, and minimum one-year license revocation.
- Third Offense (within 10 years): Felony. $2,000 to $10,000 fine, up to seven years in jail, and minimum one-year license revocation.
The fines shown do not include the mandatory conviction surcharges and crime victims assistance fee you will also pay, which can add up to hundreds of dollars more.
The penalties for a second and third DWI are even more serious if the convictions happen within five years of the first one―and this is assuming there was no crash, no injuries, and no fatalities.
On top of the court-imposed penalties, the DMV levies its own fines as part of the Driver Responsibility Program. A DWI conviction will prompt the DMV to bill you an annual assessment of $250 a year for three years to keep your driving privileges.
An important thing to remember, even if you've only had a couple beers and are feeling fine, is that even a small amount of alcohol will affect your judgment, coordination, and driving ability to some degree. Your level of impairment will depend on the amount of alcohol you drink, the amount of food you ate before and during drinking, the length of time you drank, your body weight, and your gender.
Food slows down the absorption of alcohol, while people who weigh less will see their BAC rise faster than their heavier friend who drank the exact same amount. Women, too, metabolize alcohol more slowly than men, so their BAC will go up faster than their male counterparts even if they match them drink for drink.
There is no way to "sober up" when you're done drinking other than to wait for your body to process the alcohol, which takes about an hour per drink for the average person. Coffee, a cold shower, a walk around the block―these won't speed the process and are useless for anything other than making you a wide-awake drunk. To obey the law, you'll need to either wait it out for several hours at least, get a ride from someone who hasn't been drinking, or call a taxi. The money you spend to get home without incident is a drop in the bucket compared with what you'll pay for a DWI.
Read the DMV's brochure, You and the Drinking Driving Laws, for information about the lower thresholds for commercial drivers, the ignition interlock program, what will happen if you get pulled over, and more.
Also check out the comprehensive list of penalties for related offenses, such as receiving a DWI while driving out of state.
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- Find Out How Much DUI and DWI Convictions Really Cost
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