Which States Have the Toughest Drunk Driving Penalties?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Apr 15, 2013

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Drunk driving charges can yield penalties from first-offense fines and a ding on your record, to thousands of dollars in fees and jail sentences of up to two years. Consider this: for the cost of some DUI’s, the offender could have called a helicopter for a ride home. But because drunk driving penalties are determined by state governments, the consequences vary depending on where you live. Some of the states with the country’s toughest DUI (or DWI as it’s sometimes referred) penalties include:

Arizona is often regarded as the state with the toughest drunk driving laws. For a first offense in this state, a mandatory ignition interlock device will be installed on the offenders’s vehicle. This means that a driver must blow into a straw attached to their dashboard in order to start their car. If the device detects alcohol, the car will not start. Arizona was the first state to implement this deterrent and over a dozen others have followed suit. In other states, second and third offenses carry steep fines and jail time; in Arizona, first offenders may face these tough penalties as well. Click for more on Arizona DUI Law

Tennessee is also tough on first offenders. Getting caught driving while under the influence just once could mean up to 11 months in jail and and/or a license suspension of one year or more. Mandatory counseling and DUI education classes will also be required for most offenders. Read more about drunk driving penalties in Tennessee here.

Washington takes the cake for steepest fines for drunk driving offenses, where it’s not uncommon for drunk drivers, even first offenders, to end up paying up to $5,000 in fines and fees. Most lose their license for 90 days and many are required to use the same ignition interlock devices that Arizona championed. Click for more on Washington DUI Law

South Carolina has some of the highest drunk driving violation rates in the country. As such, first offenders will receive an automatic six-month license suspension for refusing a breath test, nine months for a second offense, and a one-year suspension for a third. Offenders with a .08 or higher blood alcohol level may be looking at jail time of up to 60 days for a third DUI and fines of around $1,000. Community service hours will also be a part of any sentence, whether first or third. Beyond a third offense in most states will yield very serious penalties as they are generally considered felony offenses. Follow this link for more information on drunk driving penalties and how to find a DUI lawyer in South Carolina.

Massachusetts is a little more lenient on first-time violators and jail time will generally not be required. Third offense penalties, however, are no joke. A third DUI will land a drunk driver in jail for anywhere from 150 days to just short of two years. This is a minimum sentence, so after having done a minimum of 30 days for a second offense, a third offender is looking at mandatory jail time of nearly two years. First offenders may only be fined $250, but second and third offenses come with $10,000-15,000 fines and a possible license suspension of up to eight years. Ignition interlock devices are also mandatory with second and third drunk driving charges in Massachusetts.

Read more general information about DUI charges in the FreeAdvice’s Criminal Law, Drunk Driving section, and more state-specific information can be found here.

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