The Terrible Saga of the DUI
A Nightmare on Wheels
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and its little cousin DWI (driving while intoxicated) are well-known to many people. Sometimes it's just called drinking and driving or impaired driving, or driving with a buzz on. It's a joke to a lot of party-goers until it happens to them personally.
A lot has to do with something called Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). But alcohol isn't the only culprit in this world of DUI's. Recreational drugs are everywhere now in America, as are prescription drugs such as antidepressants that carry a warning not to combine the drugs with alcohol.
When a serious accident occurs, law enforcement people usually are the first to arrive at the scene, which may be bloody. When laws are debated in legislatures, those same law enforcement people testify about what intoxication can do to innocent people in accidents. Therefore, jail sentences and heavy fines are considered justified. Mandatory minimum sentences are commonly found in the laws. In past years there have been as many as two million annual arrests for DUI in America with about half a million people serving jail time in any one year.
What is BAC?
The "blood alcohol content" is determined by a blood or breath test taken by police at the time of arrest based on a reasonable suspicion that driving under the influence took place. There can be strict liability for a percentage above a certain amount of alcohol in the bloodstream.
It's been proven that having such a high percentage can put people at significantly greater risk of having an accident. But even without the blood alcohol test, having an open container of alcoholic beverage in the vehicle will suffice as proof in many states.
What is a Field Sobriety Test?
Instead of, or in addition to the breath or blood test, an arresting officer can conduct a Field Sobriety Test. There are various types of these. One type of test is where the officer closely observes the driver, looking for strange twitching or eye movements.
The second type of field sobriety testing is the most commonly known. It involves walking a straight line. The driver has to put his heel against the toe of the opposite shoe, and then turn around and walk back again.
The final test would be to tell the driver to see if he or she can stand on one foot (one leg) only for a period of at least 30 seconds. With loss of balance comes the foundation for a finding of intoxication.
The court and administrative hearings after an arrest for DUI can include not only a criminal hearing but also a hearing at the motor vehicle department. The criminal proceeding can result in a finding of guilty, a jail sentence, a fine, and other punishment as needed. The administrative hearing can result in loss of driving privileges, reports to insurance companies with bad financial effects, and other requirements deemed appropriate.
This is why many people seek the help of a lawyer, which of course adds to the overall cost of the horrible experience. Sometimes weeks and months pass before the entire ordeal is over. It's not uncommon for a year or more to go by while all these proceedings and decisions are being made.
You will be treated as if you are a criminal. Prosecutors can have you charged with a felony or a misdemeanor. But there will be leniency shown for people who enter into drug and alcohol abuse programs. Therefore, most do.
Sometimes if the motor vehicle authority in the state suspends a license, which normally they will, they still will allow a person to drive to work or school, or the mandatory alcohol and drug programs, but will not allow the person general driving privileges until a certain amount of time has elapsed, plus all the punishment and requirements have been completed.
Most states have "points" that are black marks against your driving record. These points are reported to insurance companies which drastically increase premiums because of the belief that a driver is a great risk.
Drugs and Driving
While BAC specifically refers to "alcohol" in the bloodstream, the modern phenomenon of recreational and prescription drugs has almost overtaken the traditional alcohol usage. Even over the counter medicines can have deadly consequences when used by drivers. The pharmaceutical companies have flooded America with substances as lethal as alcohol, but often harder to detect.
Alertness and quick decision making is part of a driver's routine duties. These abilities are affected greatly by drugs. When the drugs in question are contraband, such as cocaine or marijuana, additional criminal charges can be brought for possession of illegal substances. But any drug that causes drowsiness can suffice to be the cause of a fatal accident, even cold medicine available to anyone shopping at a drug store.
Some accidents are caused by too much coffee. Caffeine is a stimulant that can make a driver do things that otherwise would not occur. But the most common drug at fault in accidents is marijuana. The effect of one cigarette of it is the equivalent of drinking 4 beers (see http://dmv.dc.gov/page/drugs-and-driving-dont-mix).
What Isn't an Intoxicant?
A World of Intoxicants
The general word "intoxicant" can encompass a wide variety of things. To the party-goer the word is laughable. To the parent of a child killed by a DUI driver, it isn't. There are both legal and illegal intoxicants. Most people with DUI's have taken the legal intoxicants. The illegal ones are used by people with connections to drug dealers who operate outside the law.
What are the legal intoxicants the average person considers normal and secure, until a DUI-caused crash occurs, after which the vehicle is impounded and the driver placed in a jail cell?
Legal intoxicants are casually referred to as "legal highs." Alcohol is by far the most prevalent. But certain plants found in nature also are legal. So are some modern chemicals developed in laboratories.
Caffeine in coffee or tea, or nicotine in cigarettes, also are legal intoxicants. Plants that grow in certain areas are legal highs, such as special types of cactus. Things used in products and medicine, such as laughing gas used by dentists, are legal. Simple things found in kitchens might qualify as well, if taken in quantities, such as nutmeg. The venom of a poisonous toad can be smoked to get high. Special varieties of incense and even cough medicine or over-the-counter allergy relievers also are intoxicants. Some commonly found weeds are capable of intoxicating people. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_intoxicant).
But driving under the influence of any intoxicant, whether legal or illegal, could result in an accident, arrest, and big trouble for a driver. The serious consequences will take all the fun out of intoxication.