Raising a glass or two in honor of the New Year is a great way to celebrate. Just make sure you have a designated driver or Uber/Lyft on standby. You’re far more likely to be busted for drinking and driving around the holidays than at any other time of the year. Having even one drink might not be worth the risk.
A first-offense DUI (no injuries or damage) is a misdemeanor, but the penalties can be stiff:
- Fines can cost thousands of dollars
- Your driver’s license could be suspended for weeks
- Jail time can range from a few days to six months
If someone is injured because of your drinking and driving, you could be charged with a felony DUI. If someone is killed, you could face reckless homicide charges. Second and third offenses with or without injuries may be felonies, so take no chances if you’ve been convicted before.
It’s simply not worth the risk. “I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to not drink and drive, particularly during the holidays,” says criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor Ambrosio Rodriguez of The Rodriguez Law Group in Los Angeles. And here’s why.
You can get a DUI/DWI even if you’re not drunk
“What’s considered ‘drunk’ driving depends on the state you’re in,” says Melissa Breyer of The Hive Law in Atlanta. All 50 states set the legal limit for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI) at 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC). That’s about one-and-a-half drinks, depending on your weight. For those under the age of 21, no amount of alcohol is legal. This zero-tolerance limit means that even the tiniest amount of alcohol is grounds for an arrest.
“Most states have dual DUI laws on the books,” explains Rodriguez. “As a result, you don’t necessarily have to blow an 0.08 on a breathalyzer to be arrested for driving under the influence.” Rodriguez explains that if the officer who pulls you over believes that the alcohol you’ve consumed has impaired your ability to drive safely, you could very possibly face criminal charges. Even one glass of champagne can be enough to impair your senses and reaction time.
There’s a huge police presence during the holidays
Drinking tends to be more common when you’re celebrating with family and friends. For this reason, many police departments increase the number of officers patrolling the roads during the holidays. “With more officers on the road, you’re more likely to be stopped,” warns Rodriguez. “Any traffic violation – including speeding or failing to use your turning signal – can be enough to make a traffic stop legal.”
They’re waiting for you
“It’s not uncommon for officers to station their patrol cars a short distance from a popular restaurant or bar,” says Rodriguez. And because the officers are in public, there is no violation of the law. To stop your car, the officer just needs reasonable suspicion. Cooperate if you get pulled over. Most states will automatically suspend your license if you refuse a BAC test.
“Some people would argue that it’s entrapment,” says Breyer, “but it’s the exact sort of thing that cops are trained to do: go where crimes might be happening and patrol. Instead of being upset by their road checkpoints, be thankful that you’re not the victim of a drunk driver.”
Checkpoints are legal, after all
DUI checkpoints on roads that lead to and from the most popular bars are common. “Courts have held that these checkpoints are legal as long as they comply with certain rules,” Rodriguez says. And these legal checkpoints tend to pop up more frequently around the holidays as communities crack down on drunk driving.
If you get charged with a DUI/DWI
This New Year’s Eve, consider the steep consequences of drinking then driving, and whether or not the celebration outweighs the risks. If you find yourself facing a DUI or DWI arrest, the first thing you should do is contact an attorney who specializes in such charges. These lawyers are highly trained in the drunk driving laws of your state and may be able to lessen your penalties.
Being convicted of DUI or DWI can impact your life in ways you never expected, including loss of employment, prevention of employment, high insurance rates, personal embarrassment, and financial setbacks. The conviction will stay on your driving record for years. There are better ways to ring in the New Year.