Everyone can agree that DWI/DUI is a national problem, accounting for thousands of traffic-related deaths and injuries. In response, many states have strengthened laws related to DUIs, especially for repeat offenders.
Since states began enacting stronger DUI legislation, between 1982 and 2015, DUI-related fatalities decreased 57 percent. While this is, indeed, a positive effect, drunk driving remains a problem. In fact, in the U.S., a person dies every 51 minutes due to a drunk driver.
New study highlights strictest/most lenient states
Personal finance website WalletHub recently released an in-depth report on those states that are the strictest—and most lenient—with regard to DUIs. In this study, WalletHub examined each state’s laws across several key areas including fines, jail time, ignition interlock device (IID) requirements, when DUIs are considered felonies, additional penalties for high BAC levels, and other potential criminal sanctions, and assigned an overall score based on these key metrics.
Currently, the ten states that are the strictest on DUIs are:
- West Virginia
Generally, most minimum jail sentences for first-time DUI offenders range from one to five days; however, Arizona tops the list because of its long minimum jail time: ten days for a first conviction, and 90 days for a second conviction. West Virginia has the longest minimum sentence for a second-time offender at 180 days. On average, repeat offenders spend approximately three weeks longer in jail than first-time offenders.
As for fines, the average for a first-time DUI is around $347; however, with court costs, DMV fees, and other penalties, this figure can increase. Currently, Alaska has the highest minimum fine for a first-time DUI offender: $1,500.
The ten states with the most lenient DUI laws are:
- South Dakota
- Washington, D.C.
- North Dakota
- New Jersey
The most lenient state—South Dakota—has no mandatory minimum jail time for first-time DUI offenders whatsoever.
Generally, every state’s DUI law defines legal intoxication as having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 and above. In 2017, however, Utah passed a bill that lowered the BAC standard to .05. While this new law is supposed to take effect 30 December 2018, there are ongoing discussions about whether this is too low of a threshold amount to be considered legitimately legally intoxicated.
As for underage drinking and driving, many states have set their zero-tolerance underage BAC at .02; however, others consider any amount of alcohol as sufficient to warrant a DUI for a minor. Those states with the most stringent underage drinker DUI laws include Alaska, Arizona, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.
Many states also have laws which impose harsher penalties on motorists with high BAC levels. Whereas most states set this threshold level at .20, New Jersey’s enhanced-penalty BAC level is only .10—this could be as little as one drink with dinner. Enhanced DUI penalties result in longer jail sentences, higher fines, potential long-term driver’s license and license plate suspension, and even vehicle forfeiture.
Also of interest
Generally, red states have tougher DUI laws and sanctions than blue states.
The average fine for a first-time DUI ($352) is more than the Uber fare ($275-$366) between Washington, D.C. and New York City (229 miles). The average fine for a second DUI is $762. Thus, making the decision to drink and drive can have significantly steeper costs than the simple ridesharing fare from the bar to one’s home.
44 states—and Washington, D.C.—can automatically suspend one’s license following a DUI arrest and prior to any court involvement.
The same number of states (88%) also require offenders to participate in the IID program at their own cost. Numerous studies demonstrate that states with mandatory IID usage following a first DUI have significantly lower recidivism rates—in some cases as much as 67 percent.