Heavy expenses follow DUI arrest

By Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat December 28, 2012 07:58 am

A Breathalyzer reading more than 0.08 will result in arrest. Amy Alonzo Rozak / Union Democrat, Copyright 2012.
If you’re not sober, driving home this New Year’s Eve could cost you $10,000.

California Highway Patrol Officer Nick Norton said that’s the average cost of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs after adding up fines, bail, towing costs, legal fees and other related expenses.


The costly process typically begins when an officer conducts a field sobriety test on a seemingly impaired driver to evaluate coordination, balance and dexterity, all of which diminish when blood alcohol level increases. 

Through a visual check called the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, officers watch a driver’s eyes for involuntary lateral or horizontal jerking.

The walk-and-turn and Romberg tests both require individuals to listen to instructions and perform physical movements such as walking a straight line in a heel-to-toe fashion or balancing on one leg.

The officer may also conduct a blood or Breathalyzer test, which motorists consent to when signing for their California driver’s licenses, Norton said.

California citizens can refuse to take chemical tests but will automatically have their licenses suspended for a year. They could be required to take a blood test regardless of the refusal, Norton said.

If a driver is found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher, the driver will be booked into jail, often with bail set at several thousand dollars.

The legal limit of blood alcohol concentration in California is 0.04 percent for commercial driver’s license holders and 0.01 percent for drivers younger than 21 and those on probation for a DUI, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

When someone is booked for a DUI, jail personnel will test the person’s blood alcohol level every couple of hours to determine when the person can be released, Norton said. 

Jail time can also vary depending on the severity of the DUI and whether the person has a history of similar offenses.

If a driver is determined to have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 percent or higher, fines and penalties increase under an enhancement clause, Norton said.

If a driver is below the legal limit but appears to be incapable of operating a vehicle, that person can still face charges under state law, he said.

“If the officer feels strong enough that you’re definitely impaired by alcohol, you can still go to jail,” Norton said.

If convicted of a DUI, a person can be fined up to $1,000 and pay a “penalty assessment” equal to about three times the fine amount, according to the DMV.

The driver can also be without a license for six months and sentenced up to six months in jail, according to the DMV.

Depending on a person’s blood alcohol level, the person may have to enroll in an expensive DUI program for as long as nine months. The installation of an ignition interlock device is also a possibility for some offenders.

To reinstate a suspended license, the DMV charges $125.

Driving under the influence is a misdemeanor offense. However, it becomes a felony if another person is injured or killed as a result of the DUI or if there is a child in the vehicle. 

In 2011, 774 people were killed in California as a result of alcohol-impaired motor vehicle crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Retrieving a towed vehicle can also cost a drunk driver another several hundred dollars. Scott Selesia, owner of Vic’s Towing in Sonora, said rates in Tuolumne County average about $50 per day for storage, plus the cost of towing.

Drivers typically spend between $250 and $500 to get their cars back, he said.

Fighting a DUI can be the most costly part of all. Sonora-based attorney Mark Borden, who handles DUI cases, estimated the fees range from about $1,000 to $7,500.

A driver also will likely experience higher insurance rates after being convicted of a DUI.