What Happens After a Drunk Driving Accident?


Most states in the US are tough on drink driving, and quite rightly so. Every day, almost 29 people die in alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes. The number of fatalities has fallen in the last three decades, but crashes involving drunk-driving still claim more than 10,000 lives per year. The cost of such incidents runs into billions of dollars. If you’ve been involved in such an accident or have lost a loved one because of such negligence, knowing what to do and what your rights are can be confusing. You’re not going to be in the right frame of mind to ask, so it’s important you understand the implications before anything happens. Hopefully, you won’t need to recall such information, but it’s better to be prepared in case you’re ever involved in a drunk driving accident.


The Effect of Alcohol on a Persons Driving Ability

When you drink alcohol, it reduces the function of the brain, impairs thinking, reasoning and muscle coordination. If you want to operate a vehicle safely, you need all of these functions to be working properly. The more you drink, the more the negative effects on the central nervous system increase.

The level of alcohol in your system is measured by weight in a certain volume of blood. It is called Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) and is measured with a breathalyzer. If your BAC is .08 or higher, it is illegal to drive in all 50 US states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. However, even lower amounts of alcohol can affect your driving ability.


Common Indicators of a Drunk Driver

Punishments for drunk driving are becoming more severe and a police officer can pull you over if you are driving in a certain way. The most common indicators include straddling the center or lane marker, turning with a wide radius, if the car is weaving, swerving, drifting or breaking erratically. Driving slowly or stopping without cause are also indicators.


What Happens After an Accident?

When an accident occurs, a suspected drunk driver is put under police investigation. This can happen at the scene or while they are in custody. If a driver’s blood alcohol content is above the state’s legal limit, then they can be incarcerated and punished. If no one is injured, they may be charged and held in a holding cell, also known as the “drunk tank,” until sober. They will then be released on bail or on their own recognizance, or agreement to return.

A trial date will be set, and they are then likely to receive one of three punishments. Their license will be suspended for a period of time. They may have to take rehabilitation or drug awareness classes. It is also possible for a breathalyzer device to be installed in their car so that the car doesn’t start without testing the driver’s sobriety first.  

What happens if you hurt someone when you’re driving drunk depends on who is hurt and how badly. If it’s only you (the driver) who is injured, then the case will be charged as a regular DUI. If you cause injury to anyone else, whether that’s a passenger, pedestrian, or someone in another car, you could be charged with a DUI causing injury. This can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony offense, depending on what the prosecutor decides.

If someone dies as a result of your drunk driving, then you can be charged with one of three different crimes. These are vehicular manslaughter, gross vehicular manslaughter, or DUI murder. How the case is charged will depend on a number of factors. These include whether you had a prior DUI offense, how negligent you were, how intoxicated or impaired you were while driving. Vehicular manslaughter can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. However, DUI murder is always a felony charge.

It is also possible for survivors of such an accident to pursue consequences against those who caused a loved one’s death. Each state has its own wrongful death statute. You can find out more here.


What are the Penalties if You’re Involved in a DUI Accident?

The outcome is never going to be a good one if you’re involved in a DUI accident. However, in many states, it’s not the accident that leads to increased consequences. The severity of the punishment depends on whether the crash resulted in property damage, injuries, or death. The actual penalties vary from state to state, but generally, the result will be more serious convictions, for example, a felony as opposed to a misdemeanor. Fines will also be higher as well as your time in jail.


DUI Car Accidents and Your Insurance

If there is any damage caused to your vehicle when involved in a DUI accident, it may or may not be covered by your insurance. It depends on the type of insurance and your policy. If you have liability insurance, it is typical for it to provide coverage for any accident in which the policyholder drives in a negligent manner. However, it does not cover car accidents cause by intentional conduct.

Some insurers like to argue that drunk driving is intentional conduct and will disclaim coverage for any damages resulting from a DUI. If you cause an accident when intoxicated, your insurer will investigate the circumstance before agreeing to accept liability for any damages.

When you’ve been convicted of DUI or DWI, your insurance company will consider you a much higher risk. In some states, it is possible for an insurer to cancel your coverage. However, in some states this is not permitted. In which case, your premium will increase significantly. A DUI will stay on your record for at least seven years although the actual time will vary from state to state. This means your car insurance premium will be affected for the same length of time.


Getting arrested for driving under the influence or drunk driving, even if it does not involve an accident, is time-consuming and a very expensive ordeal. However, it is 100% avoidable. Never get behind the wheel when you’ve been drinking or taking drugs.





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