smart spending

Drunk driving could cost $20,000

Donald Ramsell, an Illinois attorney, says legal fees can vary from as little as $2,500 to as high as $10,000, even for a first offender.

Ramsell says that many people are quickly arrested and charged with DUI regardless of whether proof exists.

A good attorney is needed, he says, to explore multiple areas of an alleged infraction, including driving behaviors, personal behaviors and the results of chemical tests. And while rarely cheap, a good attorney may help offset other costs.

Ramsell says fines for a first offender in Illinois are up to $2,500 along with "special penalties" costs that can run another $1,500. Mandatory DWI school can cost between $1,500 and $2,500, then there's a suspension reinstatement fee of $250 to get a license back.

Ramsell says auto insurance could also increase by $5,000 to $10,000 over the next five years. A 2006 fact book published by the Illinois Secretary of State estimated the cost of a DUI conviction to be $14,660, but Ramsell says that could be much higher.

Steep costs
"It just keeps adding and adding. These are just your straight-up out-of-pocket expenses before you start to consider lost income. Some companies will fire you because their own insurance company will not allow someone with a DWI to work for them," says Ramsell. The threat of lost income during incarceration or even losing a job altogether is a real possibility. If a job includes driving for a living, termination is almost guaranteed, but nowadays, many companies will fire convicted DUI offenders.

Lawrence Koplow, a Phoenix attorney, says his state not only socks DUI offenders with high fines, but they're also billed for their own cost of incarceration that can run $165 for the first day and $60 each day thereafter. Fines in Arizona can run from $1,400 to $2,000, and a recent law requires "extreme" and "aggravated" DUI offenders, even first-timers, to have an interlock device installed on their vehicle. Similar to a Breathalyzer, the device prevents the vehicle from being started if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration that is too high. The cost of the device, which can run up to $200 to install and $80 per month, is also billed to the offender.

"A DUI is a tremendous financial burden. There are just so many costs that go along with it. A first-time offender here could be looking at $7,000 to $12,000," says Koplow.

In order to educate drivers on the consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol, many jurisdictions publicize the total estimated costs of DUI convictions.

Erie County, N.Y., estimates a DUI conviction in their county to cost about $9,500; in Kentucky, it can run about $10,000; and according to the Texas Safety Network, a DUI in the Lone Star state can run almost $8,000. But if there's a child younger than 15 years old in the car during the incident, you can face an additional $10,000 in fines, plus 180 days to two years in jail.

Finally, all of this assumes no property damage or personal injury resulted while the driver was under the influence. An offender's insurance may not cover certain costs related to damages from an accident when blood alcohol content was over the limit. In Kate S.'s DUI conviction, she was also sued by a property owner for $1,200 in landscaping fees that her insurance did not cover.

"I never would have thought I would have gotten a DUI and I had no idea how much it cost. I'm your quintessential good girl, too. I didn't have that much to drink either, just enough to put me over the limit," says Kate. "It's a real financial burden."

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