Drunk Driving: Know the Real Costs


Author: Monica Ippolito, Marriage & Family Therapist Intern, Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Program


As we leave Alcohol Awareness Month (April), it is fitting to review and clarify California’s laws on Driving Under the Influence (DUI). When a police officer pulls you over or you drive through a DUI checkpoint, you will be asked several questions and are often required to submit to field sobriety tests.  Once the officer determines if it is necessary, they will ask you to blow your breathe into a Breathalyzer device. This device is used for measuring and reading Blood Alcohol Concentration Level (BAC). For adult drivers who are 21 years of age or older, they cannot have a BAC level of 0.08% or higher when operating a vehicle. For drivers who are under the age of 21, there is a zero-tolerance policy: their BAC cannot be 0.01% or higher.  The zero-tolerance policy means that you cannot consume any alcohol in any form at any time before you get behind a wheel to drive, including cough syrup & prescription drugs.

If someone should test positive for a DUI, here is what the penalties look like for everyone on their first offense: a fine up to $1,000, the car impounded for 30 days, 4 days to 6 months in jail, and a suspended license for 30 days up to 1 year, depending on the severity of the DUI (as a minor it is likely that you will lose your license for 1 year).  In extreme cases, you could be required to put an Interlock Ignition Device on your car. This would require you to blow into the device to ensure sobriety before the car will be able to turn on.

Recently, Tom Lackey, an Assemblyman for the 36th district in Antelope Valley, California, introduced Assembly Bill 1356. Assembly Bill 1356 proposes the use of devices (like Breathalyzers) which will test for Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Benzodiazepine, Amphetamine, Opiates, and everyone’s favorite “non-harming drug” THC. Assemblyman Lackey feels that it is time to take drastic measures so that people are not driving on our public roads in an intoxicated state. The device looks similar to a credit card machine that you might see in some independent retail stores. The police officer would hand the person a stick that looks similar to a q-tip and ask them to swab their month. Then, that swab would be inserted directly into the machine for a reading. This new machine is so accurate that it can tell if you have consumed drugs within the last 2-3 hours. There are many details this Assembly Bill will have to edit for approval, such as what the penalties will look like and the ultimate question of how much these new devices will cost to make and use. This new technology will hopefully change the minds of people who use drugs, especially youth who think it is ok to drive high, because they are not drunk.

Both adults and minors seem to think that they know themselves best and judge when it is safe or unsafe for them to operate a car.  Sadly, the wrong choice is often made as many people continue to drive under the influence and end up injuring themselves or someone else, sometimes causing the unnecessary death of others. Please talk to your teenagers about the law and the penalties, encouraging them to only drive sober.