Drunk driving is an issue that affects many people all over the world. Drunk driving leads to thousands of deaths every year, and it accounts for nearly one-third of traffic fatalities. Drunk driving not only harms people involved in accidents but also has serious consequences for society as a whole. Drunk driving laws seek to deter drunk driving by punishing those who engage in this dangerous behavior. Drunk driving laws can be divided into two categories: administrative per se laws and criminal per se laws.
The first category includes driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) statutes that include blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits as an element under which the defendant commits the offense. Criminal per se statutes do not require proof of BAC; rather, they punish driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated. Drunk driving laws vary from state to state, but they all seek to reduce drunk driving and its consequences. Drunk driving is a very serious problem in the United States.
Drunk drivers are involved in more than forty-two percent of fatal car accidents; about one-third of those who die as passengers in vehicles driven by drunk drivers; and almost two thirds of pedestrians who died due to homicides (DOT 1). Drunken drivers caused the death of 17,448 people and injured almost half a million people in 2002 (NHTSA 2). Drunken drivers were responsible for killing an average of one person every thirty minutes and injuring an average of one person every two minutes (NHTSA 2). Drunken drivers caused over a hundred billion dollars in property damage every year (NHTSA 3).
Drunk driving costs Americans billions of dollars yearly, and it is especially problematic for low-income communities. Drunk driving laws attempt to reduce drunk driving by imposing criminal punishments on those who drive while intoxicated. Drunk driving is often defined as operating a motor vehicle under the influence or with a BAC greater than the legal limit. Laws that define drunk driving in terms of a BAC limit are called “per se” laws because they declare certain behavior to be unlawful regardless of any surrounding circumstances [to use examples from article].
For instance, most states have set . 08 percent as the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle, making it a per se offense to operate a vehicle with a BAC of . 08 percent or higher (NHTSA 1). Drunk driving laws also establish how much alcohol it takes to reach the legal limit. In most states, a person reaching the legal limit must have a blood alcohol concentration level of . 10 percent or greater. Drunk driving law can be divided into two categories: criminal and administrative per se laws.
Criminal per se statutes do not require proof that the defendant was intoxicated when he or she committed an offense; rather, they punish behavior associated with intoxication without requiring evidence of BAC levels at the time of the offense. For example, involuntary manslaughter is often defined as recklessly causing someone’s death through negligent behavior – such as drunken driving. Criminal per se laws also include statutes criminalizing a failure to take a chemical test when a driver is pulled over under suspicion of driving while drunk.
Since drunken drivers often cause fatal accidents, courts have seen fit to make it a crime for them not to provide evidence of intoxication when necessary. Drunk drivers who fail to take chemical tests face administrative penalties such as license suspensions and revocation, but they are subject only to the penalties prescribed by state law (NHTSA 3). In most states, mandatory license suspensions or revocations begin from the time that the offender requests a hearing on the suspension or revocation until the date of the hearing (NHTSA 4).
Criminal per se laws punish behavior associated with alcohol intoxication even if no BAC level was measured at the time of the offense. Drunk driving law also includes administrative per se laws that define driving under the influence and driving while intoxicated by BAC levels and provide only an evidentiary role for chemical tests. Administrative per se laws do not criminalize alcohol-related behavior; rather, they allow police officers to suspend or revoke a driver’s license, even though no one is arrested or criminally prosecuted (NHTSA 4).
For instance, most states have established . 08 percent as the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle through administrative per se laws. This means that if a person has a blood alcohol concentration level of . 08 percent or higher at any time during his encounter with police officers, he will be to revocation of his license (NHTSA 4). Drunk driving laws also establish how much alcohol it takes to reach the legal limit. In most states, a person reaching the legal limit must have a blood alcohol concentration level of . 0 percent or greater. Drunk driving law has changed over time as society reacts to the dangers associated with driving under the influence. Drunk driving first began receiving national attention in the early 1980s after an increase in drunk driving accidents prompted President Reagan to call for stricter restrictions on drivers who had been arrested for alcohol-related offenses (NHTSA 7).
In 1984, New York implemented one of America’s toughest drunk driving laws by lowering its BAC from . 15 percent to . 0 percent and established mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of drunk driving (NHTSA 7). Drunk driving law continued to change in the 1980s when states began lowering their legal BAC levels, including . 10 percent. Drunk driving law also mandated that all drivers under 21 be subject to a zero tolerance policy, meaning they would lose their licenses if found guilty of drunk driving (NHTSA 9). Drunk driving laws changed again when Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was established in 1980 by Candy Lightner after her daughter’s death.
MADD has since become one of this country’s most powerful advocates against drinking and driving, lobbying for dramatic changes in state and federal statutes, including requiring ignition interlock devices for first-time offenders (NHTSA 12). Despite stiff penalties imposed on convicted drunk drivers, the incidence of alcohol-related accidents remains high across the country. Drunk driving is responsible for almost one third of all roadway fatalities in America, leading Congress to pass legislation entitled Drunk Driving Prevention Act in 1990 (NHTSA 11).
This act provides funding for states so they can reduce the number of impaired drivers through increased law enforcement efforts and by improving penalties for drunk driving. Drunk Driving Prevention Act also provides money to develop . 08 percent BAC laws throughout the country by 2000. Drunk drivers are often involved in multi-vehicle crashes that result in injuries or death because they cannot react quickly enough to avoid collisions when other vehicles are merging into their lanes.