There are consequences to drinking and driving

New Year's Eve is one day away and soon people will be celebrating the end of 2008 and the start of 2009 with a drink in their hand and a smile on their face.

It's a tradition and area bars and restaurants will be pulling out all the stops to help their patrons have a good time while celebrating. But what to do when the party is over and it's time to go home?

In a perfect world everyone would call a taxi or at the very least arrange to have a designated driver. But that's in a perfect world and it's highly likely some New Year's revelers will roll the dice and attempt to drive home this year.

But those drivers should think twice before making any decision like that. The police, sheriff's deputies and the State Patrol will be looking for drunk drivers this Wednesday night and the inconvenience of paying for a taxi, walking home or leaving the car at the bar and catching a ride home with a friend will pale in comparison to what a DUI will cost.

According to Sunnyside Police Officer Jaime Prieto, a typical DUI arrest goes something like this.

First the driver gets pulled over. The reason for the police stop is usually something simple. For instance, failing to turn the lights on, a slight weave on the road while not paying attention, not using a turn signal or even driving too slow.

For whatever reason the driver gets pulled over, once the smell of alcohol is detected or a slurring voice is heard, it's basically over for the driver.

He or she will be asked to step out of the car and perform some standard field sobriety tests. These can include the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk and turn, and the one-legged stand.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test involves having the suspect use their eyes to follow a pen the officer is holding. The officer checks for any bouncing or jerking of the eyes. If this happens it almost always means the driver is impaired.

The walk and turn involves the suspect walking in a straight line, hands by their side, for nine steps and then walking back. The officer looks at how well the suspect follows directions.

The third test just involves the suspect standing on one leg for about 30 seconds. According to Prieto, a person who is sober should be able to stand on one leg for that long.

If the officer is still unsure whether the driver is impaired or not, a portable breath test can be used on the road to determine the suspect's blood alcohol level. If it is determined the driver is intoxicated, the officer arrests the person and takes them to jail. There the fun is just beginning.

Depending on the situation the arrested person will either spend between six to eight hours in lock-up until they have sobered up. In some circumstances the driver can be required to stay in jail until they can see a judge.

The person's car is towed away from the scene and to get the car out of impound will cost money. A local towing company in Sunnyside charges $177 for the tow and $45 per day in storage fees.

A DUI conviction with a low blood alcohol level is at least one day in jail. A high alcohol blood level is at least two days. The maximum jail time for a first time offender is one year.

A high blood alcohol level is .15 and a low level would be between .08 and .14.

A person's driver's license is automatically suspended for 90 days if a low blood alcohol level is shown. A high blood alcohol level will get the person's driver's license suspended for a year.

The fine imposed by the court is $1,121 in Sunnyside. This can grow depending on how drunk the person was.

Other costs associated with a DUI is a $25 alcohol assessment fee. This usually leads to alcohol treatment where a typical year runs approximately $2,000. The person must also pay DUI restitution, which covers the police officer's time spent dealing with the DUI case. Insurance costs will go up and in some cases the person must install an ignition interlock system for a period of time.

This system forces the driver to blow into a machine installed in their vehicle. If any alcohol is detected the vehicle won't start. The cost for having this system is approximately $75 a month and a typical length of time where this system must be in a person's car is about one year.

Conservative estimates place the costs of a DUI at approximately $5,000. Some estimates push that number up to $10,000. Either one is high and affects the person convicted of the offense for a long time. These numbers assume no one was hurt in the DUI incident. If the driver causes an accident that results in the injury or death of another human being, the costs could be astronomical.

The silver lining to all of this is that these fines and jail time never have to affect anyone. All it takes is making the right decision when deciding on whether to drive home after a night of drinking.


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