When a person decides to undertake the task of operating a vehicle while intoxicated or otherwise under the influence of alcohol or other substances, they automatically put others at risk, as well as open themselves to criminal prosecution if they are caught in the act. In the interest of saving lives and protecting other motorists, law enforcement officials have greatly stepped up their diligence in seeking and prosecuting those who are driving while under the influence of alcohol and other substances. Being caught and subsequently charged with driving while intoxicated entails severe penalties, including the possible loss of driving privileges, jail time and a life long felony conviction record. Drunk driving also has far more severe consequences, as there is the risk that someone can be horrifically injured or even killed in an accident that is caused by an impaired motorist.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is represented by three technical terms when applied to criminal cases – driving under the influence (DUI), driving while intoxicated or impaired (DWI) or operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated or impaired (OWI). Every state within the U.S. and Puerto Rico not only applies the statutory offense of DUI / DWI / OWI, but also add another offense known as “illegal per se”. This offense is applied when someone is found to be operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of .08 or higher. Previously, the allowed legal standard for drunkenness across the U.S. was a BAC of .10
The application of DUI / DWI / OWI charges are determined by the observations made by a police officer during either the traffic stop or at a sobriety checkpoint, which are set up during holidays or at random times for the purpose of checking for DUI / DWI behavior. These observations include whether the operator of the motor vehicle shows signs of possible alcohol intoxication, including hallmark behaviors such as erratic driving, slurred speech and reduced motor coordination skills. Roadside sobriety tests include simple motor coordination skill tests that can quickly determine the outward signs of possible alcohol intoxication and the use of alcohol breath testers, commonly known as “Breathalyzers”. These machines analyze the level of alcohol found in the breath and translates the measured amount into a numerical standard that can easily be read. For instance, a BAC level of .08 means that there are .08 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. Based on the results, the officer determines whether the level of alcohol found exceeds the predetermined legal level allowed for those operating a motor vehicle on the roadways. In the event that it does, the driver is placed in police custody, pending charges.
Different states handle the issue of DWI with varying degrees of severity in regards to penalties and other punishments. Some states add onto present penalties if a drunk driver causes an accident that requires the hospitalization of another person for a period lasting longer than a specifically determined time (usually 72 hours) or in cases where an accident that was the result of DWI has caused property damage exceeding a predetermined amount ($500 on average). If the driver is found to have had prior convictions for DUI / DWI, further penalties can be applied. Many states feature “Zero Tolerance Laws”, which call for the suspension or delay of driving privileges if any person under the age of 21 either purchases or attempts to purchase alcoholic beverages, even if they were not caught behind the wheel of a motor vehicle while in an intoxicated state.
Despite the warnings, stiff penalties, public awareness and educational programs designed to curtail and prevent the proliferation of alcohol impaired persons on the roadways and an ever increasing diligence by law enforcement in regards to keeping drunk drivers off of the roadways, people still take a chance by getting behind the wheel of their vehicles when they are in no condition to operate a vehicle due to being intoxicated or otherwise impaired by alcohol consumption. Another important factor in regard to DUI / DWI cases is how different people handle the consumption and more importantly, the metabolism of alcohol. The height, weight and sex of a person can determine how quickly they can become intoxicated within an hour’s time. For instance, a person weighing 160 lbs can consume two beers within an hour and have a BAC level of .04, which is well under the legal limit. However, that person is 1.4 times more likely to have an accident than someone who is sober. Add two more beers to that equation, and the chances that that person will end up in an alcohol related accident rise nearly ten-fold, with the driver risking a BAC level of .08, which places the person at risk of being placed in police custody for DUI / DWI offenses.