Strictest And Most Lenient States On DUI

by Alina Comoreanu, Senior Researcher

Aug 10, 2017

Drunk driving results in roughly 1 million arrests, 10,000 deaths and $44 billion in economic damage each year. WalletHub compared the penalties in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 15 key metrics, ranging from fines and minimum jail time to “ignition interlock device” requirements. Below, you can find an overview of the strictest and most lenient states, followed by some additional highlights from the report.

DUI Penalty in New York (1=Strictest; 25=Avg.):

  • 12th – Minimum Jail Time (1st offense)
  • 16th – Minimum Jail Time (2nd offense)
  • 6th – How Long Old DUI Factors into Penalties
  • 20th – Administrative License Suspension
  • 5th – Minimum Fine (1st offense)
  • 7th – Minimum Fine (2nd offense)

Drunk driving takes a terrible toll on the United States – one measured not only in dollars but also, far more importantly, in lives lost. It was to blame for 29% of motor vehicle fatalities in 2015, according to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It claims roughly 10,000 lives per year. And it costs Americans more than $44 billion annually.

There is good news, though. Drunk driving fatalities dropped by 57% from 1982 to 2014, according to the NHTSA, as states have cracked down on the practice. As a result, motor vehicle crashes are no longer among America’s top 10 causes of death.

But which states are taking the most aggressive stance toward “driving under the influence” (DUI) and “driving while intoxicated” (DWI)? To find out, WalletHub compared the drunk driving penalties in all 50 states and D.C. You can find a complete breakdown below.

Overall Rank (1=strictest) State Total Score Criminal Penalities Rank Prevention Rank
1 Arizona 84.09% 1 2
2 Georgia 70.45% 2 19
3 Alaska 65.00% 3 15
4 Kansas 64.09% 3 19
5 Oklahoma 64.09% 5 11
6 Nebraska 61.82% 6 16
7 Conneticut 60.91% 7 8
8 Utah 60.45% 11 2
9 Delaware 55.91% 10 11
10 West Virginia 54.55% 9 25
11 Colorado 54.09% 14 6
12 Virginia 52.27% 14 11
13 Texas 51.36% 8 36
14 Louisiana 50.91% 14 16
15 Washington 50.45% 20 6
16 Oregon 49.55% 18 19
17 Florida 48.64% 24 5
18 Nevada 48.82% 23 11
19 Illnois 46.36% 31 4
20 Tennessee 46.36% 14 34
21 California 45.45% 19 31
22 Arkansas 43.64% 48 1
23 Massachusetts 43.64% 13 44
24 Iowa 42.73% 11 46
25 Kentucky 42.27% 27 19
26 Hawaii 41.82% 35 9
27 Minnesota 40.45% 27 28
28 South Carolina 40.45% 21 36
29 New Mexico 39.55% 35 19
30 New York 39.55% 24 33
31 New Hampshire 38.64% 35 24
32 Alabama 38.18% 35 25
33 Rhode Island 37.27% 24 38
34 Missouri 36.82% 40 28
35 Maine 36.36% 48 16
36 North Carolina 36.36% 27 38
37 Indiana 35.45% 31 35
38 Wisconsin 35.45% 46 25
39 Wyoming 35.45% 40 32
40 Montana 35.00% 21 47
41 Mississippi 34.09% 48 28
42 Vermont 33.64% 31 41
43 Michigan 30.91% 40 43
44 Pennsylvania 30.91% 46 38
45 New Jersey 30.45% 45 42
46 Maryland 30.00% 51 9
47 North Dakota 29.55% 40 45
48 Ohio 28.64% 35 47
49 District of Columbia 22.27% 31 50
50 South Dakota 20.45% 40 50


Click here for much more detailed findings in all 50 states and DC.

Ask the experts: Combating Impaired Driving

The incidence of drunk driving has declined dramatically in the last three decades, but impaired drivers are still responsible for 10,000 deaths annually. Clearly, more can be done to protect Americans from irresponsible motorists.

To find out how, we turned to a panel of legal experts to help us understand the best options for keeping impaired drivers off the roads.

  • What are the major factors that are responsible for the decline in drunk driving fatalities since the 1980s?
  • What is the most effective policy that states should consider to reduce drunk driving rates further?
  • What steps can individuals take to prevent friends and loved ones from driving drunk?
  • Four states and D.C. have legalized the use of marijuana. Does marijuana impair driving, and how can law enforcement test for it?

Jonathan Adkins

Executive Director of the Governors Highway Safety Association

What are the major factors that are responsible for the decline in drunk driving fatalities since the 1980s?

With the combination of strong laws, education, and enforcement, the perception of alcohol impaired driving shifted. It used to be seen as something that you probably shouldn’t do, but it’s ok if it happens. Strong advocacy and the message that alcohol impaired driving is dangerous for everyone helped to change the cultural perception of getting behind the wheel of a car under the influence.

What is the most effective policy that states should consider to reduce drunk driving rates further?

There is no silver bullet when it comes to saving lives due to impaired driving. States need to have a combination of laws that are supported by enforcement and education efforts. Once an offender has been identified, it is important that they receive an appropriate level of assessment and treatment to help address any underlying issues that could cause them to re-offend.

What steps can individuals take to prevent friends and loved ones from driving drunk?

Whenever there is the possibility that someone may drive impaired, make sure to have a plan in place that includes a sober driver or using alternate transportation such as a taxi, Uber, or public transit. Open and honest communication about the dangers - personal, financial, social - associated with impaired driving will hopefully make someone think twice.

Four states and D.C. have legalized the use of marijuana. Does marijuana impair driving, and how can law enforcement test for it?

The purpose of a drug is to affect physical or mental conditions of an individual. Any drug can impair an individual’s ability to operate a motor vehicle and someone under the influence of a drug should be aware that they could be operating a vehicle in an unsafe manner.

There are tests available to law enforcement that identify if an individual has any drugs in their system, but most of those are not available on the roadside. Many agencies across the country rely on specially trained law enforcement officers called Drug Recognition Experts (DRE). These DRE certified officers have undergone intense training that allows them to recognize that an individual is impaired and is able to identify the categories of drugs causing the impairment.

Ryan C. Smith

Senior Research Associate in the Center for Vulnerable Road User Safety at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute

What are the major factors that are responsible for the decline in drunk driving fatalities since the 1980s?

It is true that alcohol related and non-alcohol related fatalities have decreased significantly since the 1980s. This can be attributed to a number of safety improvements including technological and safety advances in vehicles and roadways. For example, consider all of the safety features in vehicles today including better materials, anti-lock brakes, air bags, and crash mitigation technologies such as forward collision warning.

Since all driving fatalities have decreased, the real question is if the percentage of fatalities that are alcohol related has decreased. Indeed, this was observed from 1982-1997. The percentage of traffic fatalities involving an impaired driver decreased from 48% in 1982 to 30% in 1997. Unfortunately, this percentage has not dropped significantly since 1997.

Early progress between 1982 and 1997 has been attributed to a number of factors such as lower blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits, administrative license revocation, raising the minimum drinking age to 21, and high visibility enforcement. Social factors such as increased public awareness and activism (e.g., Mothers Against Drunk Driving), reductions in per capita alcohol consumption, and socioeconomic conditions (e.g., unemployment rates, age of drivers, etc.) have also all played an important role.

What is the most effective policy that states should consider to reduce drunk driving rates further?

An expert panel was convened from members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Transportation Research Board (TRB), Alcohol, Other Drugs, and Transportation Committee (ANB50) to examine this very question. The panel voted to determine its top three strategies to resume progress in reducing drunk driving.

First, we recommended imposing administrative sanctions for drivers with BACs ranging from 0.05 to 0.08 g/dL. Many countries around the world have a 0.05 g/dL legal limit (or lower). The National Transportation Safety Board has even recommended all states reduce their legal limit to 0.05 g/dL.

Second, require ignition interlocks for all alcohol impaired offenders. Ignition interlocks have been consistently associated with lower rates of drunk driving while they are installed. Additional states need to enact sound ignition interlock policies.

And, third, increase the frequency of sobriety checkpoints. Currently, 11 states prohibit sobriety checkpoints. Legislation should be adopted in these states to allow checkpoints. In addition, checkpoints should be increased in jurisdictions where they are allowed.

What steps can individuals take to prevent friends and loved ones from driving drunk?

Our research at Virginia Tech found that nearly 1 in 3 self reporting drivers over the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle (BAC ≥ .08 g/dL) believe their BAC is under this limit. Furthermore, the average BAC of a “designated driver” was 0.063 g/dL in our field study of more than 10,000 participants. This is a BAC where impairment is likely.

Interestingly, out of designated drivers who consumed alcohol, females were significantly less likely to be impaired at a BAC of .05 g/dL or greater (40.8%) as compared to males (60.2%). The bottom line is that many well intentioned individuals do not realize that they are over the legal limit to drive.

You should encourage loved ones to find designated drivers who are fully committed to not consuming any alcoholic beverages. Our friends and loved ones need to understand that while we may feel safe to drive after drinking, we are often unaware of our level of intoxication. Smart drinking decisions should be made prior to the first drink and we should all consider not consuming any alcohol if we will be driving.

Four states and D.C. have legalized the use of marijuana. Does marijuana impair driving, and how can law enforcement test for it?

The relationship between marijuana and driving performance is complex. The limited research in this area is often misrepresented by advocates on both sides of marijuana legalization.

The effects of marijuana undoubtedly impair driving. However, individuals high from marijuana will often overestimate their level impairment and compensate by engaging in protective driving behaviors. For example, drivers under the influence of marijuana will have slower reaction times. Yet, they will also tend to increase the following distance with the vehicle in front of them to compensate for their impairment.

While drivers under the influence of marijuana will experience detriments to driving performance, it may not manifest as a greater crash risk because of these compensation techniques. Further research is desperately needed to understand the impacts of marijuana on driving performance and crash risk. This is particularly true when attempting to set per se legal limits for THC.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) is currently conducting research in Colorado to better understand the effects of marijuana on actual driving performance. We are conducting the first naturalistic driving study of marijuana impairment, and it will provide desperately needed answers on the traffic safety effects of marijuana.

The detection challenges for marijuana are numerous. Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) were designed to assess alcohol intoxication and are only minimally effective at detecting marijuana impairment.

Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) provide one specialized mechanism for the detection of drugged drivers. DREs are police officers that go through intensive training and evaluation to become certified at identifying individuals impaired by drugs. This is a highly valuable training, but it is time and cost intensive for states. Many states do not have a sufficient number (if any) of trained DREs, and this is becoming a significant problem.

There are a lot of misconceptions about drug tests for marijuana and how long marijuana can be detected in someone’s system. This is uniquely challenging because there is no marijuana equivalent for a breathalyzer and THC levels do not directly correspond to driver impairment.

Many people are familiar with urine tests for detecting marijuana. However, urine tests only detect the non-psychoactive 11-nor-9-carboxy-THC (THCCOOH) which can be detected months after smoking or ingesting marijuana.

Blood and oral fluid tests are able to detect the psychoactive Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is more directly associated with physiological impairment and can be detected anywhere from a few hours to, potentially, a few days after smoking or ingesting marijuana.

































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