Driving Under the Influence

Driving under the influence (DUI) is the criminal act of driving a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) in excess of the legal limit. This is sometimes referred to as driving while intoxicated (DWI), operating under the influence, or drunk driving. Drunk driving laws may also extend to boating, piloting an aircraft, or even using a horse-drawn carriage.

The first state to adopt laws against drunk driving was New York in 1910, with California and others following shortly after. The laws and penalties associated with drunk driving were made stricter in the 1970's, and continued to get tougher throughout the 1990's. The current BAC limit for driving is .08%. Some states have a lesser charge for BAC's of .05%, with many jurisdictions limiting this figure to drivers under the age of 21. Commercial drivers in many areas are limited to a BAC of .04%, and receive stricter punishments for exceeding the limit. It is also illegal to drive under the influence of other drugs, or to drive under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs. The use of both legal and illegal substances can result in DUI or DWI charges.

Historically, drunk drivers were caught by observing reckless driving. Even today, field sobriety tests are administered to suspected drunk drivers. Field sobriety tests must follow National Highway of Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidelines, and include .a battery of three tests administered and evaluated in a standardized manner to obtain validated indicators of impairment and establish probable cause for arrest.. Tests can include things like walking a straight line heel-to-toe, standing on one leg, or touching the tip of your nose with a finger. Currently, drunk driving is determined by blood alcohol tests. The test generally occurs within two hours of the incident, with results obtained by a breathalyzer.

Being aware of your blood alcohol content (BAC) is important in determining whether or not it is legal to drive. BAC is expressed as a percentage of alcohol in the body. The effects of alcohol consumption on BAC vary greatly from person to person. Factors such as gender, size, hydration, food intake, amount of alcohol consumed, and rate of consumption all play a role in determining a person's BAC. BAC's over the legal limit can occur when drinking as little as one or two drinks.

Some disturbing statistics regarding drunk driving:

The legal penalty for driving under the influence is generally a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. Offenses can be elevated to a felony if the incident causes serious injury, death, extensive property damage, or if the defendant has prior DUI convictions (usually 3 prior convictions within 7 years). In cases where the driver's BAC is over .20%, or .15% in some jurisdictions, additional sanctions can be applied. These can include jail time, larger fines, longer DUI programs, or ignition lock devices. The costs of DUI's can be severe, and often lead to long lasting legal, financial, social, and personal issues.