smart spending

Drunk driving could cost $20,000

Keys in holiday drinking glass, in front of Police line
Highlights
  • A DWI conviction for a first-time offender with no accident would range from $9,000 to $24,000.
  • Some companies will fire you if you've been arrested for a DUI.
  • If there's a child younger than 15 in the car, you can face additional fines and possibly jail time for a DUI.

Having just one more green beer or shot of Irish whiskey won't cost you too much, right? Well, if that last dance with the bottle on St. Paddy's Day leads to an unlucky DUI conviction, you'll be paying for it for years to come.

And that's only considering the potential financial cost of being ticketed for driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated, better known as DUI or DWI. It'll take even longer to get past the staggering financial blow if you cause an accident -- or the emotional devastation if your actions cause injuries or worse.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 134 fatal accidents on St. Patrick's Day in 2008, the last year for which data are available, and 50 of those involved at least one driver who was legally drunk at the time of the crash. That means 37 percent of the drivers and motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes had a blood alcohol level of .08 or above.

One drink too many puts you at risk not only for an arrest, but also for fees, fines and costs that can run you thousands of dollars. While a DUI or DWI may be a misdemeanor charge in a number of jurisdictions, it's a matter that most judges and district attorneys take very seriously. The financial toll of a conviction will play out for years to come, and in many states, that can add up to $20,000 before everything is over. This includes bail, fines, legal fees, increased auto insurance premiums, loss of work income, court-ordered alcohol education programs and more.

Of course, if you get fired from your job as a result of the arrest, that dollar figure would skyrocket.

Potential expenses from a DUI -- first offense
You don't even have to get convicted to start running up expenses on a DUI charge. But if you're found guilty, a first offense could mean that last drink cost you dearly. While the amounts vary by location and specific circumstances, here are some of the expenses you may realize:
Fines.Court costs.
Attorney fees.Bail.
Loss of job.DUI "school."
Temporary loss of income.Car towing, impounding.
Alternate transportation costs.Car ignition interlock device.
Periodic blood testing.Monthly monitoring fees.
Cost of incarceration.Increased auto insurance premiums.

The financial impact of a DUI arrest on any one person can vary greatly depending on many factors, such as driving record, jurisdiction, blood-alcohol level, attorney fees and fines, not to mention the specific circumstances of the incident and whether there was an accident or if anyone was injured.

The Texas Department of Transportation says a June 2006 survey in that state showed the total costs of a DWI arrest and conviction for a first-time offender with no accident involved would range from $9,000 to $24,000.

And while expenses can vary substantially by jurisdiction, in no city is a DUI charge cheap.

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In 2000, when graduate student Kate S. was driving home from a party in Woodstock, Ga., she was involved in an accident. She was not found to be at fault for the mishap, but blood tests at the hospital later revealed she was over the legal alcohol limit and she was booked on a DUI charge. Some costs Kate had to pay included a $2,500 fine, approximately $3,000 in legal fees and insurance premiums that rose an additional $600 per year for the next five years.

"As part of my sentence, I had to go to what they call 'DUI school,' and one of the things we had to do was tally up how much it cost you. I came up with about $13,000 in all," says Kate.

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