Tuesday, April 21, 2009

DWI - Law

All states in the U.S. designate a per se blood or breath alcohol level as the threshold point for an independent criminal offense. A second criminal offense of driving "under the influence" or "while impaired" is also usually charged in most states, with a permissive presumption of guilt where the person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08 percent or greater (units of milligrams per deciliter, representing 8 g of alcohol in 10 liters of blood). Some states (e.g., Colorado) include a lesser charge, sometimes referred to as driving while ability impaired (this may apply to individuals with a .05 percent or above, but less than the .08 per se limit for the more serious charge. The amount of alcohol intake to reach 0.08 percent varies substantially with body composition and health state. Risk of traffic accidents are increased already by far less dosage.

Prior to increased emphasis on drinking and driving in the 1980s, standards of .10-.15 percent were in place. The legal limit for commercial drivers in the U.S. is set at 0.04 percent.All states also observe a much stricter standard for drivers under the age of 21, commonly of .01-.02 these are often referred to as "Zero Tolerance" laws.

Driving under the influence of drugs

Unlike DUI, DWI, or OWUI cases that involve alcohol, there is generally no "per se" or legal limit that is employed for persons accused of driving under the influence of prescription medication or illicit drugs (although this is not the case in Ohio). Instead, the key inquiry focuses on whether the driver's faculties were impaired by the substance that was consumed. The detection and successful prosecution of drivers impaired by prescription medication or illegal drugs can therefore be difficult. Similarly, although urinalysis toxicology screens can detect the presence of such substances in the driver's bloodstream, these analyses are unable to demonstrate that the substance was actually causing impairment at the time of driving. In response to these problems, several jurisdictions are currently considering legislation that would establish "zero tolerance" laws for those drivers arrested for DUI and found to have drugs or medication in their system. Additionally, breathalyzers have been developed for the purpose of administering roadside or laboratory tests that can detect the actual level of a controlled substance in an individual's body.

Penalties

Compared to many other countries penalities for drunk driving, unless involved in an incident involving injury or death of others, are light. Many states do not revoke driving permits even if the offender is convicted multiple times. In most U.S. states drink driving is socialy acceptable in a way that it is not in much of Europe. Many jurisdictions require more serious penalties (such as jail time, larger fines, longer DUI program, the installation of ignition interlock devices) in cases where the driver's BAC is over 0.20, or 0.15 in some places. These additional sanctions are an attempt to deter and punish the operation of a vehicle at extremely high BAC levels and the concomitant danger posed to the safety of persons and property by heavily impaired drivers. In many cases, the reason given for these additional sanctions is because an average person would have passed out from that much alcohol. To be able to drive at that level, a person has to have consumed alcohol regularly for months in order to increase his/her alcohol tolerance and therefore is likely to have driven drunk repeatedly. However, since there is currently no standard test to measure alcohol tolerance, proponents of additional penalties for high-BAC offenders point to some studies that indicate that high-BAC offenders are more likely to be involved in a crash and more likely to recidivate. Critics of such laws point out that due to wide variations of alcohol tolerance, people with high tolerances will suffer the additional penalties, despite being less impaired than those with lower tolerances who drive with much lower BACs.

Some U.S. states also increase the penalties for drunk driving (even to the point of making it a felony) if certain other aggravating circumstances besides a high BAC are present, such as if the drunk driver caused an accident requiring the hospitalization of another person lasting greater than a specified period of time (often 72 hours), in cases where an accident resulted in property damage exceeding a certain amount (often $500), or where the driver has prior (and relatively recent) convictions for drunk driving. In addition, most states observe administrative laws that further penalize people convicted of DUI, typically enforced by the department that issues driver's licenses, usually titled Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), or Department of Licensing. Australia and the UK have higher alcohol consumption rates, lower ages for alcohol consumption, much lower sentencing regimes for DUI Manslaughter, and much lower incidences of DUI.
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Driving While Intoxicated

Driving while intoxicated is the act of operating and/or driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs to the degree that mental and motor skills are impaired. It is illegal in all jurisdictions within the U.S. The specific criminal offense is usually called driving under the influence (of alcohol and/or other drugs, DUI), and in some states driving while intoxicated (DWI), operating while impaired (OWI), or operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI). Such laws may also apply to boating or piloting aircraft.

In the United States the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 17,941 people died in 2006 in "alcohol-related" collisions, representing 40 percent of total traffic deaths in the US. Over 500,000 people were injured in alcohol-related accidents in the US in 2003. NHTSA defines fatal collisions as "alcohol-related" if they believe the driver, a passenger, or an occupant of the vehicle (such as a pedestrian or pedalcyclist) had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.01 or greater. NHTSA defines nonfatal collisions as "alcohol-related" if the accident report indicates evidence of alcohol present. NHTSA specifically notes that "alcohol-related" does not necessarily mean a driver or nonoccupant was tested for alcohol and that the term does not indicate a collision or fatality was caused by the presence of alcohol. On average, about 60 percent of the BAC values are missing or unknown. To analyze what they believe is the complete data, statisticians simulate BAC information. Drivers with a BAC of 0.10 are 6 to 12 times more likely to get into a fatal crash or injury then drivers with no alcohol.