Don't Press Your St. Patrick's Day Luck: Designate a Driver; Cost of a First-Offense DUI Now $15,649
With the popularity of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day as a night out with friends increasing each year and with the date falling on a weekend, the Automobile Club of Southern California cautions drivers to plan ahead, designate a sober driver and be aware that a first-offense misdemeanor DUI conviction can now cost approximately $15,649. 
 
The financial pain is even worse for a teen-age driver.  The cost of an under age 21 first-offense misdemeanor DUI is $22,492. 
 
The Auto Club developed its estimate for the price of a first offense misdemeanor DUI conviction in California by totaling up mandated state and local fines, penalties, restitution and other legal fees and adding them to estimated attorney and increased insurance costs.  The $15,649 figure is up 29 percent from 2011 – largely due to a 37 percent increase in auto insurance and state and county fees and penalties, according to the analysis. 
 
The Auto Club’s calculations do not include thousands of dollars of other potential costs that drivers can face if they lose work time for a criminal trial or to go to jail, need to pay bail ($2,500), have medical, vehicle damage, or transportation costs after a crash. 
 
It also doesn’t include if the convicted driver incurs liability in a civil trial, or must install an ignition interlock in their vehicle (as mandated in Los Angeles and several other California counties).  In addition to the many financial costs of a DUI, people convicted of driving under the influence could lose many important things in their lives that often don’t have price tags – such as their family, job and dignity. 
 
A recent AAA report found that 10 percent of motorists admit to driving when they thought their blood alcohol content was above the legal limit in the past year.  “This is entirely preventable,” said the Auto Club’s Senior Researcher Steven A. Bloch.
 
“It only takes one or two drinks to slow physical and mental skills that affect vision, steering, braking judgment, and reaction time,” he said.  “Drivers should be aware that the California Highway Patrol and law enforcement agencies regularly use sobriety checkpoints to look for drinking drivers during heavy drinking periods, such as St. Patrick’s Day.”
 
California arrests large numbers of DUI offenders every year, almost enough to fill LA Memorial Coliseum – twice.  In 2011 (latest data available) 182,672 drivers were arrested for the offense.  “The toll from drinking and driving in California is enormous,” Bloch said.  “In 2010, the latest data available, more than 25,000 persons were killed or injured in alcohol-related crashes.” 
 
Current laws, enforcement, public awareness, and education efforts by public service-oriented organizations, including the Auto Club, have contributed to the decline in the number of alcohol-related fatalities during the past 13 years. 
 
The Auto Club advises that motorists can keep themselves and others safe and can avoid costly DUI arrests by keeping these safety tips in mind for St. Patrick’s Day weekend or any time:
 
  • Always plan ahead to designate a non-drinking driver before any party or celebration begins
  • At social events, designate non-drinking drivers who can get everyone home safely.
  •  Never serve alcohol to those under age 21.
  • Never ride as a passenger in a car driven by someone who has been drinking alcohol – even after just one drink.
  • Call a friend or family member for a ride home if you have been drinking.
  • Keep a cab company telephone number in your wallet so you can call for a ride home.
  • As a party host, offer a variety of non-alcoholic drink alternatives and provide a gift to guests who volunteer to be designated drivers.
  • Take the car keys away from friends and relatives who have had too much to drink.
  • If you encounter an impaired driver on the road, keep a safe distance and ask a passenger to call 911 (or pull over to a safe location to make the call yourself).
  • Remember: prescription, over-the-counter medications and illegal drugs also can impair your ability to drive safely.
Visit PreventDUI.AAA.com for impaired driving facts, transportation alternatives and expert advice.  AAA encourages visitors to Take the Pledge to drive drug and alcohol-free.
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