Driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) are significant problems in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2010, 10,228 people died in automobile accidents involving a drunk driver. Drunk driving crashes accounted for 31 percent of all traffic deaths. People who drive while intoxicated by alcohol or while under the influence of another substance don’t just put themselves at risk. Young adults between the ages of 21 and 24 are the most likely to be cited for drunk driving, but teenagers engage in DUI and DWI as well. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 5.8 percent of 16 and 17 years olds and 15.1 percent of 18 to 20 year olds admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol or another substance at least once in the past year.
Difference Between DUI and DWI
The implications of the terms DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving while intoxicated) vary from state to state. Some states use only one charge or the other. In Kansas, for instance, a DUI charge is brought against anyone found to be driving while impaired by any substance. Other states use both charges with DWI referring only to alcohol intoxication and DUI referring to impairment by any other substance. Still other states use DWI and DUI to designate the severity of impairment. DWI is the more serious charge in most states and implies a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over the legal limit. Maryland, where a DUI is the more serious charge is an exception to this rule. Texas also uses both charges, but the DUI charge applies only to minors. Because the laws in different states vary so widely, it is important to speak with an attorney if you find yourself facing any kind of impaired driving charges.
Blood Alcohol Level (BAC)
The blood alcohol level, also known as blood alcohol concentration or BAC measures the amount of alcohol contained in a person’s blood. It is expressed in percentages. For instance, if a person’s BAC is .10 percent, it means he or she has one part of alcohol in his or her system for every 1000 parts of blood. A BAC of .08 percent is considered legally intoxicated for adult drivers. A driver under the age of 21 can be cited for having any alcohol in his or her blood at all since it is illegal for minors to consume alcohol. Factors influencing the BAC include
- Number of drinks
- How quickly the drinks are consumed
- Body weight (thinner people tend to have higher BACs)
- Gender (women generally become intoxicated more quickly than men)
- Amount of food consumed with alcohol
A BAC can be obtained with a breathalyzer, a test that estimates your BAC from the amount of alcohol on your breath, or with a blood test. People suspected of drunk driving who refuse to submit to either test will generally have their driver’s licenses revoked for a period of time.
Field Sobriety Testing
Before a police officer can charge a person with DUI or DWI, they must have probable cause. Having the person perform field sobriety tests is one way to establish cause. Field sobriety tests are designed to test a person’s coordination and patterns of eye movement. There are only three field sobriety tests that have been approved by the NHTSA. The first is standing on one leg. The second is walking a straight line and then making a 180-degree turn. The third is called the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. Nystagmus refers to the way a person’s eyeballs tend to jerk when he or she is under the influence. The officer administering the test asks the subject to keep his or her head still while following an object with his or her eyes. The officer will then see if the subject is able to follow the object smoothly or if the eyeballs start to jerk as they move from side to side. Field sobriety tests are sometimes problematic because there are medical conditions that can mimic the effects of intoxication. A diabetic with neuropathy, for instance, might not be able to balance him or herself on one foot.
Follow these links to learn more about DUI and DWI:
- Only the Strong Survive: Stop Yourself, Stop a Friend
- CDC Vital Signs: Teen Drinking and Driving
- Dangers of Teen Drinking
- Strategies for Success: Combating Juvenile DUI
- Teens Against Drunk Driving
- DrinkingandDriving.org: If You Are Under 21
- Distracted, Drunk and Drugged Driving
- SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions)
- The Teen Driver
- Allstate Foundation: Research on Teen Driving
- Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh: Drinking and Driving
- National Organization for Youth Safety
- Toyota Teen Driver: Safe Driving Resources
- Mariah’s Challenge
- NCJRS: Impaired Driving Prevention