The District of Columbia has zero-tolerance drunk driving laws.



The Sobering Statistics

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2004 there were 43 traffic fatalities in the District of Columbia. Twenty-eight percent of those involved a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher.

However, this figure reflects a 56% drop in alcohol-related crashes from the previous year. This is thanks to efforts by the District Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Police Department's drunk-driving safety checkpoints and speed enforcement.

Alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents kill someone every 31 minutes and cause nonfatal injures every 20 minutes. During 2004, alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes accounted for 39% of the traffic-related deaths in the United States. And finally, the NHTSA estimates that each year, alcohol-related crashes in this country cost individuals and taxpayers about $51 billion.

We've all seen these eye-opening statistics before, but it bears repeating here: Drunk driving kills. Each intoxicated person who gets behind the wheel takes into his hands not only his life, but the lives of everyone else he'll encounter on the road.

Always appoint a designated driver when you go out to social occasions where alcohol will be part of the festivities. Otherwise, simply calling a cab when you've had too much to drink will prevent trouble and heartache later.

In addition to the legal penalties briefly outlined below, in the District of Columbia if you are stopped by an MPD officer and arrested for drunk driving (or driving under the influence of drugs), you will be assessed 12 points on your license. This means an automatic 90-day suspension of your driving privileges. The same penalty applies to drivers under the age of 21 who are caught with any measurable amount of alcohol in their breath, blood, or urine.

What Is Drunk Driving, Exactly?

• DWI is defined as "driving while intoxicated." This means having a BAC of 0.08% or higher (or the equivalent breath or urine measure). For a driver under age 21, this is defined as having ANY measurable alcohol in his blood, breath, or urine.

• DUI is defined as "driving under the influence" of alcohol or drugs. This can apply even if your BAC is below 0.08% if it can be shown that you were impaired.

Penalties for a DUI/DWI Conviction

Because driving while intoxicated can be so deadly, the penalties are quite severe. Remember that a DWI or DUI is a criminal offense, not a traffic ticket. It's handled by the police and the courts rather than your friendly neighborhood DMV. If you don't learn your lesson the first time, the penalties will increase in order to keep you off the road.

First Offense
The penalty for the first DWI/DUI offense is a fine of $300 and up to 90 days in jail. For a blood alcohol level of at least 0.20% but not more than 0.25%, the madatory minimum sentence is five days behind bars. If the level is more than 0.25% by weight of alcohol, the mandatory minimum sentence is 10 days. In any case, your driver's license will be revoked for six months.

Second Offense
If the second DUI offense occurs within 15 years of the first one, then the fine can be anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000, and the jail sentence can be from five days to one year. According to the law, jail time can't be suspended by a sympathetic judge?it's mandatory. There is an additional 30 days of community service required, and as the blood alcohol level increases, so increases the minimum jail sentence. Also, you will lose your license for one year.

Third and Subsequent Offenses
If the third or subsequent conviction for DUI occurs within 15 years of the second offense, the fine is $2,000 to $10,000, and you'll face mandatory prison time of 10 days to one year. On top of an additional 60 days of community service, your license will be revoked for two years.

License Reinstatement
A DUI arrest will result in an automatic suspension of your driving privileges?whether or not you are later convicted of the crime in court. This is in addition to the lengthy revocation you will be faced with after a conviction.

To get your license reinstated after a suspension, you must wait for the suspension period to expire and pay a reinstatement fee. You can't get back a license that was revoked, however. Instead, you must apply for a brand-new license?and only after a hearing has been held to determine whether you are eligible to be allowed back behind the wheel.