The Real Cost of a DUI — and How You Can Reduce It

April 20, 2017

cost of a DUIThe worst part of a DUI charge isn’t that heart-stopping moment when you get pulled over. It’s not the depressing ride in the back of the police car, or the miserable hours spent in a jail holding cell. Nope: If you get pulled over for drunk driving (and you don’t hurt anybody else), the worst part is the cost of a DUI.

How much does a DUI cost? The most frequently cited number is $10,000, but it depends on where you live, your blood alcohol content and whether it’s your first conviction for driving under the influence. We’ll break down the average DUI costs and look at ways you may be able to reduce them. Just remember that avoiding drunk driving is always, always the best choice. An Uber or Lyft ride home could be the wisest $15 you’ll ever spend.

DUI Cost: Penalties and Court Costs

DUI attorney costA DUI conviction almost always carries a fine, although the amount can vary significantly depending on the circumstances of your case and the state you live in. In California, for instance, a first-time offender who did not cause bodily injury would have to pay about $1,800 in DUI penalties, fines and fees. The average first-offender DUI fine, according to Wallethub, is $347.

How to reduce DUI penalties: Your best bet is to hire a DUI lawyer. They may be able to help you plead to a lesser charge, such as reckless driving. However, if your blood-alcohol level was very high, or if there’s clear evidence you were driving drunk, even the best attorney may not be able to help.

Cost of a DUI in Attorney Fees

Getting a DUI charge is scary. Having an attorney to advise you makes the process less overwhelming. But representation isn’t cheap. The average DUI attorney cost, according to one survey, is around $1,900. Don’t be afraid to ask your attorney about his or her fees before you sign a contract.

How to reduce your DUI attorney cost: You may not actually need an attorney. One option Nolo recommends is paying an attorney for an assessment of your case. He or she will review the incident report and the results of your test for blood alcohol content. If the chances are high that you will be found guilty because your BAC was well over the limit and/or you crashed your car, you might as well plead guilty, without a lawyer.

DUI Costs: Car Insurance

The biggest hidden cost of a DUI is the increased cost of car insurance. DUI insurance rates skyrocket after a conviction and stay high for years. How much more will you have to pay for insurance? That depends. In Wallethub’s survey, the biggest jump was in North Carolina, where drivers’ insurance rates went up 112 percent, on average. The smallest was in Michigan, with a 9 percent jump. In most states, you can expect a 30 to 60 percent increase. Over the years, this adds up to thousands of dollars in extra insurance costs — as much as $40,000 over 13 years, according to the California DMV.

How to reduce DUI insurance rates: Compare.com may be able to help. In just minutes, you can get free quotes from multiple insurers, so you can compare car insurance policies and choose the best one for you. And promise us that you’ll never, ever drive under the influence again.

Cost of a DUI in Towing/Impound Fees

After your arrest, you’ll have to pay to get your car or truck out of the police impound lot. (Make sure you have a friend to drive; remember, your license is suspended.) Take a few deep breaths first, because you’re gonna get mad when you hear how much it costs to get your car back. You may have to pay an impound/vehicle release fee of $90-$250. Plus towing charges of $100-$800. Plus storage fees of $10-$100 a day.

How to reduce DUI costs for getting your car back: It’s no use begging or bribing the impound lot employees. They’ve heard it all before. The best thing to do is simply go and get your car as soon as you’re allowed to do so, to prevent the daily storage fees from piling up.

DUI Cost: Bail and Jail Costs

After your DUI arrest, you may be released on your own recognizance. That means the judge allows you to go home on the condition that you show up for your court hearing. Or, you may need to post bail to be released from jail. A Lawyers.com survey found that the average bail for a DUI offense was $500.

DUI penaltiesIn many states, jail time is mandatory for first-time DUI offenders. The minimum sentence may be only one day (like in North Carolina or Montana) or 10 days (like in Arizona or Georgia). For second-time offenders, the minimum rises to as much as 180 days (in West Virginia).

Jail is no fun, obviously, but it also costs you a lot of money. If you get sick and require treatment, for instance, some jails will charge you for your medical care. Others charge inmates for their room and board.

How to reduce DUI-related jail fees: A DUI attorney may help you get a shorter sentence, or fight to avoid paying jail-related charges.

Cost of a DUI in DMV Fees

Once you’re eligible to have your license reinstated, you’ll have to pay for the privilege of driving again. Your state DMV will charge you a certain amount — in Virginia, for instance, it’s $220 — to get that license back.

How to reduce DUI-related DMV fees: Sorry, you’ll just have to pay them.  

DUI Cost: Interlock Device and Alcohol Education

After your first DUI, many states require you to do certain things that will reduce the risk or reoffending. One is to take mandatory alcohol education classes or undergo substance abuse treatment, which may cost $1,000-$2,500. Another is to install an interlock device in your car. The device requires you to test your breath for alcohol before the car will start. These aren’t free. You may be charged $70-$150 for installation plus about $60-80 per month for monitoring and calibration, according to MADD.

How to reduce these DUI costs: Search for a low-cost, online alcohol education class. Online classes may be cheaper than one conducted in the classroom. Also, if you don’t have the money to pay for an interlock device, there may be a fund that can help.

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