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Drunk Drivers: Penalties Across State Borders Range Widely

The central nexus between drunk drivers and fatal car accidents – 12, 744 DUI-related deaths in 2009, according to government statistics – is well recognized and can hardly be overstated. The FBI states that close to 1.5 million people are arrested each year on state roads and highways across the country for driving while drunk.

What to do about such a well-established and perennial problem?

The first thing that many traffic and safety experts note is that there is no national guideline set up to deal with it, i.e., no consistency in penalties assessed across state borders.

“There is a lot of discretion,” says one drunk driving analyst, in referring to the exactions that are placed upon a motorist charged with DUI in any instance. “It’s like a ref on the football field. Everyone holds on every play. Which one is the most egregious of the offense?”

A quick look at Ohio and its immediately surrounding states underscores the lack of a national standard in dealing with drunk drivers.

In Ohio, for instance, a three-day mandatory treatment program is generally prescribed for a first-time offender, but no jail time. Conversely, a driver can face up to 93 days in jail for a first offense in Michigan, although a one-day sentence accompanied by probation and community service is more typically meted out. In Indiana, there is no jail time at all; just fines and fees. West Virginia and Kentucky will hand out jail times if a motorist’s blood-alcohol level reaches a certain point.

Many authorities are united in their agreement that sending a first-time offender off to jail for any time is simply not helpful, nor a deterrent. What is more often recommended is the installation of an ignition interlock device that will disable a car from starting if a motorist blowing into it has been drinking.

Additionally, the threat of jail time is seen as effective to force compliance with other ordered conditions, such as probation and alcohol testing.

Related Resource: USA Today, “Drunken-driving penalties could depend on your location” July 28, 2011