Any car accident that results in serious injury or death is tragic. Drivers under the influence of alcohol are at an increased risk of causing an accident. After motor vehicle crashes, even sober drivers may be under suspicion for alcohol-impaired driving. If there is any evidence that the driver was drinking alcohol, they may be arrested for an accident DUI.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drunk driving crashes result in more than 10,000 traffic fatalities each year in the United States. Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for almost one-third of vehicle traffic fatalities. Alcohol affects driving ability, including increased risky behavior, impaired judgment, muscle coordination, and reaction time. These effects make it more difficult to operate a motor vehicle safely. The higher the driver's blood alcohol level, the greater the impact on their physical and mental ability to drive.
Police and law enforcement officers can stop vehicles that they reasonably suspect may be involved in criminal activity. Signs that a driver may be impaired or driving unsafely may include:
However, when an accident occurs, the collision itself may provide reasonable suspicion that someone violated a traffic law. The officer responding to a traffic accident will conduct an accident investigation. This includes talking to the parties involved, which could provide further evidence of possible impaired driving, including:
The limit for a DUI in most states is 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The per se limit may be lower for commercial drivers (0.04%). For drivers under the legal drinking age, most states have a zero-tolerance limit for underage drinking and driving. Impaired driving laws also apply to drivers under the influence of drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol.
An alcohol-impaired driver who is arrested and convicted of a first-time DUI can face serious penalties. However, those penalties may increase if the driver was involved in an injury accident or fatal crashes. Penalties for alcohol-related crashes may include:
With reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, such as erratic behavior of a driver or admitting to alcohol consumption, police officers will try and administer field sobriety tests. Standardized field sobriety tests look for signs of impairment. Police use these tests to gain probable cause to arrest the driver on suspicion of alcohol impairment. These tests may look for:
The police may also ask for a breath sample, as part of a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS), using a Breathalyzer. The Breathalyzer gives an estimated blood alcohol level of the driver, which can also be used to justify an arrest. The problem with roadside Breathalyzers and field sobriety tests is that they can be inaccurate. Even a sober driver could “fail" field sobriety tests because of a medical condition, dangerous roadside conditions, or physical disability.
Drunk driving is a crime whether or not the person behind the wheel causes any property damage, injuries, or fatalities. If someone is found guilty of alcohol-impaired driving, they may face time in jail, loss of their driver's license, and thousands of dollars in fines and fees. A drunk driving crash can be even more expensive.
In addition to criminal liability, drunk drivers may face civil liability, especially in the case of a serious auto accident that causes severe injuries or death. The accident victims or family members can file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit to recover damages. When intoxicated drivers are involved in an accident, the impaired driver is generally held responsible for injuries and property damage.
Drivers involved in drunk driving car accidents should speak to a DUI attorney to understand their options. An accident after having a couple of drinks is not necessarily caused by impaired driving. There may have been other factors that lead to the accident, unrelated to alcohol or drugs. Talk to your criminal defense attorney about your rights and legal options after a drunk driving accident arrest.