Anyone who drives after drinking alcohol takes a gamble. First, you bet you can operate a heavy machine (i.e., your car) while under the influence of a drug. If you lose that bet, you could end up harming someone on the road, not to mention yourself and family. Every year in America, there are 10,000 deaths from drunk driving that prove people keep don’t understand the consequences.
In addition to the physical danger, you could damage yourself financially and professionally with a DUI offense. According to a 2017 study by WalletHub, the strictest states in the country can hit you with 180 days of jail time and a felony conviction for a second offense. Meanwhile, you won’t have a driver’s license for six months or more. If that’s not enough trouble for you, don’t forget about the fines you’ll owe, your higher insurance rates, and the potential of losing your job.
Certainly, there are U.S. states (including Ohio and North Dakota) where a DUI offense may not affect your life in such a big way. However, there are many places where a drunk driving conviction could practically ruin you. Let’s take a quick look at the 15 states with the toughest DUI laws in America.
The great state of Washington is known for its orderly highway traffic and respectful drivers. Maybe that’s why drunk drivers stand out so much on the road. If cops catch you drunk driving there, you’ll face at least one day in jail and see your license suspended for 90 days. Get busted a second time and you could serve 30 days in a Washington prison.
Next: Your first offense in this state is good for a 45-day license suspension.
While anything goes in the French Quarter on the Sunday before Mardi Gras, Louisiana’s court system takes a fairly harsh approach to drunk drivers. You may find yourself spending two days in jail and see your license suspended for 45 days on the first offense. If you mess up a second time, you could spend 30 days in jail. Don’t expect time to heal these wounds: DUI offenses remain on your record for 10 years.
Next: Convictions are bigger in Texas
As with so many other things, the penalties for DUI convictions are bigger in Texas, too. Compared to Pennsylvania (where there’s no minimum sentence), Texas laws come off as very strict. For a first DUI offense, you face three days of jail time. Meanwhile, you’ll also feel the burn of life without a car. Courts suspend your license for 45 days as a penalty for first-timers. Mess up a second in Texas and you could spend 30 days in jail.
Next: There’s no minimum sentence for first-time convictions, but you’ll pay in other ways.
If Virginia is lenient about DUI offenses in one sense, it would be the fact there’s no minimum sentence for a first conviction. However, you will pay in other ways. Fines of $300 come with the territory, as does an automatic license suspension for seven days. Meanwhile, you’ll probably be blowing into a breathalyzer in your ignition for the immediate future. (Good luck explaining that one to clients.) Second DUI offenses carry a minimum sentence of 30 days in jail in Virginia.
Next: You could face a license suspension of 90 days and fines that reach $1,000.
There is nothing liberal about the penalties for driving while intoxicated in Colorado. A first offense can land you in jail for five days, which ranks fourth among the harshest of U.S. states. Drivers also face a license suspension of 90 days and fines that could reach $1,000. To avoid penalties, you could agree to attend alcohol education class and install an ignition lock device (at a cost of $1,000). Drivers under 21 will lose their license immediately if caught with alcohol in their system.
Next: No jail time, but get ready for a 180-day license suspension
10. West Virginia
First-time DUI offenders in West Virginia may not face jail time, but they will see their license suspended for 180 days. This fat penalty can be avoided only if you install an interlock device in your ignition. Of course, these devices are expensive, and you will also pay a fee to get your license reinstated. A second DUI offense means 180 days in a West Virginia jail (minimum sentence), which is the toughest law on the books in America.
Next: Everyone convicted of a DUI offense in this state must use an ignition interlock device.
Delaware makes it very unpleasant for state drivers and anyone passing through on I-95 while inoxicated. A first offense carries no jail time, but you will have your license suspended for 90 days. Fines may run up to $1,150, with court fees costing you more if you choose to contest a charge with an attorney present. Second offenses come with minimum jail sentences of 60 days here. Finally, everyone convicted of a DUI offense must use an ignition interlock device.
Next: Your license disappears for 120 days and you spend two days (minimum) in jail.
Get ready to feel miserable if you are convicted of a DUI in Utah. Right away, your license disappears for 120 days and you spend two days (minimum) in jail. Getting your license ($250) and car ($350) back after they are confiscated adds to the financial mess. You will also pay for the ignition interlock device you must keep in your car for 18 months. This offense remains on your record for 10 years, so if there is a second time within the next decade you will spend 10 days in jail and face even steeper fines.
Next: Fines, mandatory jail time, and a suspended license come standard in this state.
Fines, mandatory jail time, and a suspended license come standard with a conviction for “operating under the influence” (OUI) in Connecticut. Between court costs, administrative fees, cost of returning your car and license plus the installation of a mandatory interlock device, you’ll spend well over $1,000. Second-time offenders face a minimum of 120 days in a Connecticut jail. This punishment term is second only to West Virginia’s for the harshest jail policy in America.
Next: This state holds a conviction on your record for 15 years.
If you hope for a DUI offense to go away, you better not get caught in Nebraska. The state holds this conviction on your record for 15 years, which is tied with D.C. for the nation’s harshest policy. First-time offenders face seven days in jail, a license suspended for 90 days, and a $500 fine. Drivers who are caught again for DUI within the next 15 years face 30 days in a Nebraska jail.
Next: Fines, fines, and more fines
You’ll wish you hadn’t been in Kansas anymore if you’re stopped for drunk driving. You will start paying through the nose with fines ranging from $750 to $1,000 plus the cost of reinstating your license ($200) and installing the interlock device you’ll need for your ignition (typically $1,000). If you need to be at your job, you’ll need to come up with an excuse when you miss the two days you’ll spend in jail. For a second offense, you’ll go behind bars for 90 days.
Next: First-timers go to jail for 10 days
A look at Oklahoma’s brutal DUI laws show how serious lawmakers consider this offense. First-timers go to jail for 10 days, making it the toughest on the books in America. The state also suspends your license for 180 days (unsurpassed in the U.S.) and charges you over $500 in fines before you consider court fees or getting your car back from the pound. Second-time offenders get an automatic felony on their record, and your first offense will hang over you for 10 years.
Next: The pain begins with three days of jail time and license suspension of 90 days for first offenders.
A DUI conviction will make your life very uncomfortable in Alaska. The pain begins with three days of jail time and license suspension of 90 days for first offenders. To get your license back, you will pay up to $500 and have to apply for a new one. The process includes written tests, vision tests, and possibly another road test. You’ll also have to get forms from your insurance carrier (the one that just raised your rate). Second-time offenders within the next 15 years go to jail for 20 days and lose their license for a year.
Next: Your nightmare will begin with 10 days of minimum jail time and the loss of your license for a full year.
If you go strictly by the punishment involved, Georgia could be considered to have the toughest DUI laws in America. Your nightmare will begin with 10 days of minimum jail time and the loss of your license for a full year. Financially speaking, you’ll be much worse off following a conviction. Fines and fees (for alcohol education, etc.) will run you up to $1,500. Second-time offenders face 90 days in jail and could lose their license for three years.
Next: A regular DUI gets you up to 10 days in jail and fines of $1,250 as well as a license suspension of 90 days.
Even considering the many harsh DUI laws around the country, WalletHub’s experts in the field ranked Arizona as the strictest state in America. A regular DUI gets you up to 10 days in jail and fines of $1,250 as well as a license suspension of 90 days. Getting busted with a high blood-alcohol level here will get you a fine of $2,500 and 30 days in jail in many cases. These tough penalties are the same for second-time offenders at or above the normal legal limit.
As in many other states, Arizona also makes ignition interlock devices mandatory, and forces you to add one on every vehicle you drive. Unless you have plenty of money in the bank and a very understanding boss, you would probably end up without a job and in debt for a serious drunk-driving offense in this state. (Your spouse or partner may also not stick around.) When someone says a DUI can wreck your life, that’s what they mean.
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