Holiday Partying Gone Bad: What a DUI Could Actually Cost You

December 30, 2014

As the end of the year rolls around, the traditional celebrations begin to stack up: holiday parties, family gatherings, outings with friends visiting from out of town, and of course New Year’s Eve parties begin to fill our calendars. For many, these functions involve alcohol. Spirits—not just the kind visiting Scrooge in the night—have been an important part of holiday traditions for many years. Of course, whenever alcohol (and now, of course, legal marijuana in Colorado) is involved in celebrations, it’s important to enjoy the festivities in moderation. If you don’t, and you decide to get behind the wheel instead of using public transportation or calling a taxi or ride share, there are serious consequences—including financial ones.

Colorado's Limits and Laws

First of all, if you drive a car in Colorado that means—under a law called “express consent”—you have already given law enforcement permission to analyze your breath or blood for the presence of intoxicants like alcohol and marijuana. If you refuse, you may be forced to surrender your driver’s license for up to one year. It might seem like a good idea to avoid a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charge, but bear in mind the costs of being without a license for a year are unquantifiable, and on top of that, when you do get your license back, you will be required to carry expensive, high-risk SR-22 insurance.

If you are tested for chemicals in your blood or body, there are two different types of penalties depending on how much you test for.  In Colorado, the legal limit for Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is 0.08%. If a chemical test results in a reading above that amount, you may be charged with a DUI. However, even if you test below 0.08%, you could still be charged with Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI). In Colorado, a BAC greater than 0.05% could result in a DWAI charge.

Costs and Consequences

So what are the costs associated with these violations? Even if you’re not convicted of a crime, you will need legal representation, and that’s not cheap. A brochure from the Colorado Department of Transportation estimates a lawyer will cost you $2,500. If you are convicted, or take a plea deal, it could cost you up to $10,000 in fees, fines, increased insurance costs, and other charges. The maximum penalty for a DUI is up to 1 year in jail, and that’s just for the first offense. Subsequent offenses will cost you even more, and could even result in a court order requiring you to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle. One of the state-approved vendors for these devices charges $65/month for you to lease it, plus a $95 application fee.

Minors, Marijuana, and Other Facts

No matter what, you’re looking at hefty, ongoing costs associated with breaking this law. There’s a good reason for the penalties being so stiff: according to CDOT 1/3 of Colorado’s annual traffic fatalities are the result of alcohol-related incidents. The human cost of intoxicated driving is much, much higher than the financial toll it takes.

It’s not just adults who need to be aware of this, but it's critical parents understand the law as it relates to minors. Even without a vehicle involved, anyone under the age of 21 who possesses or consumes alcohol (with a few exceptions) or marijuana is considered a “minor in possession” , and could be punished by up to a $100 fine and up to a three month suspension of their driver’s license for their first offense.

When it comes to minors behind the wheel, a BAC of just 0.02% can result in a revocation of their driver’s license. Even if they weren’t drinking, if law enforcement discovers alcohol in the vehicle, it could result in the driver’s license being revoked even if they were unaware of the alcohol. Not only will there be court and other fees, but insurance rates could increase. Fortunately, it is possible for this record to be sealed if the minor has no additional offenses within a year. Still, it’s very important for parents to educate their teen and young adult drivers on the risks of letting alcohol get anywhere near them when they’re operating a vehicle.

Of course, since January of 2013, Marijuana has been legal for adults over the age of 21 to use. According to laws passed since the passage of Amendment 64, there are laws and punishments similar to alcohol with regard to drivers who consume marijuana—so-called “drugged driving." Law enforcement can perform a blood test, and if more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood is present, you can potentially be charged with a DUI (this was actually true before marijuana legalization, but the state legislature created a legal limit when the drug was legalized).

So remember -- the holidays are a fun time to celebrate with friends, coworkers, and family. Just be aware of how much you’re celebrating, and, if worst comes to worst, taxis, ride sharing services like Uber, and public transportation, is infinitely cheaper than breaking the law.