In This Article
Driving under the influence is dangerous to both yourself and others. Drunk driving can lead to serious injuries and even death.
In fact, about one-third of all crash fatalities in the United States involve drunk drivers. Every single day about 28 people in the United States lose their lives in car crashes that occur due to drunk driving. That means one person dies every 52 minutes.
In 2019, these numbers have, fortunately, plummeted to the lowest percentage since 1982, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started reporting drunk-driving deaths. But 10,142 people still died preventable deaths that year.
The federal legal driving limit in the United States is a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08%. This means 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter (g/dL) of blood. In 2018, 1,878 people were killed in DUI-related crashes where drivers had even lower BAC levels. 10,511 people died in all drunk-driving accidents.
From 2009 to 2018, more than 10,000 people died every year in drunk-driving crashes. Men are more likely than women to drive while drunk, but both are guilty of it.
It’s important to note that buzzed driving (or driving after having a few drinks) is still considered drunk driving. Even if you are not intoxicated, you may still be too impaired to drive. You are putting yourself, others, and other motorists at risk of an accident.
Each state has its own laws on DUI (driving under the influence), but driving while impaired is considered a criminal offense in all 50 states. Federal laws also exist and cover penalties for DUIs that are committed within federal properties.
What is a DUI Conviction?
A DUI conviction commonly refers to the criminal offense of driving while having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that’s above the legal limit of 0.08%. It is short for driving under the influence. A DUI also applies to those who drive while under the influence of drugs or other medications that cause impairment.
Is a DUI the same as a DWI?
Depending on the state, a DUI may be similar to or the same as a DWI. DWI stands for driving while intoxicated or driving while impaired. In some states, a DWI may apply to anyone who is driving while impaired in any way. This may include falling asleep at the wheel or not being safely in control of the vehicle.
What constitutes a DUI or a DWI varies by state. While they may be synonymous in some states, a DWI doesn’t have to involve drugs or alcohol in others.
Alcohol-Impaired Driving Laws by State
Criminal charges for a DUI conviction will vary by state. Blowing a 0.08 BAC into a breathalyzer warrants a DUI charge in every state. But some states have a zero-tolerance penalty for any BAC level. Fines and penalties will vary.
Your charges may also vary depending on your criminal history. For example, if you have had other DUI cases or prior convictions, you may be charged more than your first offense.
In addition to a prior DUI, reckless driving charges, traffic violations, jail time, infractions, and any kind of misdemeanor that may come up on your background check, can affect your penalties.
How Long Does a DUI Stay on Your Record?
DUIs are kept on public records and by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). How long a DUI stays on your record depends on the state.
It typically takes about three to five years for public records to clear, but it can take much longer in some states. In California for example, a DUI charge will remain on your record for 10 years, which starts on the day of your arrest.
Substance-related DUI will stay on record forever in states like Washington, Florida, and Maine. These include driving while drunk or under the influence of controlled substances.
The state’s DMV keeps permanent driving records of DUI charges. This is to make sure that repeat offenders are punished accordingly.
How to Check Your Driving Record
You can check your driving record online. Just find the official DMV or Department of Driver's License website for your state. It should end in a .gov (e.g., https://dmv.ca.gov).
On the website, search for the driving record page. Under it, go to the "Records" or "Documents" tab. You may be asked to pay a small fee of $10 to get a hard copy of your driving record.
Alternatively, you can visit your local DMV to request a copy of your driving record. As soon as you get it, check that all listed dates and incidents are accurate.
Can You Get a DUI Off Your Driving Record?
No. A DUI charge will stay on your driving record as per state laws. You cannot request to have them removed.
As mentioned earlier, your state’s DMV will retain these records to check for prior DUI charges. However, a DUI can drop off a person’s public record in many states over time.
Will a DUI Give You a Permanent Criminal Record?
A DUI is a criminal offense in most states. So if you’re convicted of a DUI, it will go on your criminal record. Criminal records are permanent. You can try to have them removed but it will be a lengthy process, and there’s a chance that you won’t get approved.
It’s important to note that your criminal record and driving record are not the same. A DUI may or may not affect your driving record forever, depending on your state laws. But it can be on your criminal record for life.
Can I Have a DUI Expunged or Have My Records Sealed?
Yes. You can try to clear a DUI from your public or criminal records through expungement or having your records sealed. Though it depends on what is offered by your state. Either way, this would clear your record if granted by your local government.
Expunging a DUI from Your Criminal Record
Expungement means that your DUI will be completely removed from your criminal history. To do this, you’d have to apply and appear in court for a hearing with a DUI lawyer. The judge will decide whether or not to grant you the expungement.
While some states may allow you to expunge your criminal record after completing probation, others may not. In some states, you will have to wait a few years before you can apply. Hiring a DUI attorney can help you go through this process. You may be able to get a free consultation before seeking legal advice about your DUI arrest or conviction.
A misdemeanor DUI can be expunged faster than a felony DUI. Take note that even if you are expunged, misdemeanor and felony DUIs still count as crimes. Hence, you will incur more severe penalties after the first offense.
Sealing Your Criminal Record
Sealing hides your criminal record from the public. This prevents other people such as employers, property owners, and landlords from being able to see your DUI. It gives individuals who have been charged with DUI the opportunity to live a normal and peaceful life.
Consequences of a DUI on Your Record
Having a DUI conviction on your driving record can affect you in the following ways:
Many employers perform background checks on potential hires. People with a DUI conviction are usually not hired for jobs, especially if they involve children, government work, or driving company vehicles. Individuals with a criminal history of DUI may also be unable to obtain professional licensures that can help them advance their careers.
Renting a Home
Most landlords and property owners ask potential tenants and buyers about their criminal history and credit information. Once you've cleared the records, that's the only time they'll agree to rent or sell the home or apartment. If you have a DUI conviction, they will more likely deny your application.
Auto Insurance Rates
Car insurance companies are wary of customers who might cost them more than they’re paying for. So if you have a DUI criminal record, you might not be eligible for auto insurance. These companies usually charge people with a DUI car insurance fees that are twice more than those without a DUI conviction.
How Long Does a DUI Affect Car Insurance Rates?
In most states, a DUI will stay on your record for about three to five years. But in other states, it can take longer. In California, for example, it’ll stay on your driving record for 10 years. After that, it’ll just fall off like any other traffic violation.
A DUI will affect your car insurance rates for as long as it is on your driving records.
DUI and Legal Consequences
The legal consequences of DUIs will vary based on state laws. Below are some of the most common penalties issued by law enforcement:
- Driver's license suspension — 48 out of 51 states issue an administrative license suspension (ALS) for the first offense. The driver's license can be suspended for 30 days to a year or longer. Some states allow limited driving privileges for first-time offenders. For example, they can drive to and from work without getting into trouble with the law.
- Fines — People who are facing a DUI will be asked to pay fines. For example, people with a record in California pay fines upwards of $1,400.
- Jail time — On the first offense, a person with a DUI conviction may serve anywhere between 24 hours and up to a year behind bars. Law enforcement will sanction repeat offenders with longer jail time that can last up to 3 years.
- Ignition Interlock System — This device disables the car engine if alcohol is detected in your breath. Currently, it is mandatory in 31 states for people convicted with a DUI.
- Other penalties for DUIs — Drivers who are caught with a high BAC (0.15% or higher) are subject to more severe penalties in 44 states.
What if I Get Multiple DUIs?
If you get multiple DUIs, you will likely face license suspension. In addition to getting your driver’s license suspended, many states require offenders to install ignition interlock devices at their expense.
This divide is a breath test connected to your vehicle’s ignition. So it won’t turn on if you don’t pass the test, which is pre-set at a low limit (usually 0.02 g/dL).
Does a DUI in One State Show Up in Another State?
Whether or not your DUI shows up in other states depends on the state’s DMV policies on reporting DUI convictions and arrests. Not all states require reporting, but most do.
Due to the Driver License Compact (DLC), your driving record is likely to follow you almost anywhere in the United States. So it’s safe to assume that, your DUI will show up in other states.
How Can I Avoid a DUI Conviction to Begin With?
You should always plan ahead if you are going to drink, take drugs, or use medications that impair your reaction time and driving abilities. If you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or if you are impaired and unable to safely operate a vehicle for any reason, do not attempt to drive.
Instead, call for a ride or ask for help. Request a friend or family member to pick you up if you cannot drive. Alternatively, you can hail a taxi or use a ride-sharing app like Uber to drive you home.
Risking your life and the lives of others on the road is never worth it. If you have already gotten a DUI, talk to a DUI defense attorney about the next steps.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an alcohol use disorder (AUD), reach out for help.