The first alcoholic drink paves the way for the second drink, then suddenly the room is a little brighter, the conversation a little livelier and the next drink a little tastier. With the bar closing soon, the ride home from a Beaches nightspot seems a bit far, but you feel confident in your abilities.
At first, everything is fine. But then a quick moment of dizziness or distraction … another driver appears out of nowhere, a quick correction … and then … a collision. Airbags deploy. Metal crumbles underneath the weight.
Everyone’s life changes.
It’s all too common: A night on the town that ends behind the wheel, maybe with an accident, and a resulting DUI. Florida laws outline the process offenders must take, from the fines to the traffic school, but according to Judy Cotton, a program specialist at Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Northeast Florida, a variety of factors can influence the outcome. Costs and time quickly rack up.
“A lot of people go out to have a good time or they go to dinner and have a couple drinks, but they don’t realize the consequences,” Cotton said. “They think they are okay because they are just buzzed, but they don’t realize that buzzed driving is drunk driving. Impairment starts on the first drink.”
Injuring another individual during an alcohol-related crash is the worst-case scenario for drunk drivers, but Florida has a tiered penalty system that covers every facet of a DUI offense. When stopped for driving under the influence, everything can come into play — whether or not you have a blood alcohol concentration over .15, a minor in the vehicle or if there was a crash involved.
First-time offenders, assuming there is no crash and no injuries, can expect to pay between $3,700 to $12,200, but expenses can reach more than $25,000 for repeat offenders. Outside of basic fines, the cost varies, but usually includes driver improvement school, vehicle impoundment fees, probation, alcohol treatment, attorney’s fees, an ignition interlock device and increased prices for insurance. However, offenders on their first DUI will also face possible jail time, probation time of up to one year, 50 community service hours and a revoked license for six months to a year. DUI first-timers must also attend a minimum of 12 hours at a driver improvement school.
A third and fourth offense are considered third-degree felonies, with the fourth offense resulting in a permanent revocation of an individual’s license. Other penalties, such as jail time, increase with each additional conviction.
Even though drivers should be presumed innocent until proven otherwise, many charged with a DUI can lose a job as a result, according to Becky Barlow with Stone Lockett, a Jacksonville law firm. Unlike a traffic ticket, a DUI is life-altering.
“It can have a damaging effect on a person’s profession and reputation,” Barlow said, adding that future employers might be less likely to make a hire based on the DUI. “An employer may understand the circumstance or that people learn from their mistakes, but not always.”
Lost income due to unemployment or required time off work should be tallied into costs when calculating expenses. In addition, a police officer’s time, the cost of booking an individual into jail and the subsequent court fees associated with a DUI charge all come at a cost to the taxpayer.
Even though the process seems pricey, experts, such as Cotton and those at the Northeast Safety Council, would argue that a DUI is not about making money.
“For some people — they have never been in trouble before, but here they are, arrested, mugshot taken, fingerprinted and booked into jail,” Cotton said. “They are embarrassed to face their families, their employers, their friends. They feel they have lost their dignity, and there is no price you can place on that.”
The moment an intoxicated person gets behind the wheel of his or her vehicle the potential to injure another person multiplies. People should never have to worry about drunk drivers on the road, Cotton said.
“People complain about how much a cab costs,” she said. “It can be really pricey, but I’m telling you it is cheaper than a DUI and it is certainly cheaper than taking someone’s life.”
VOICES OF EXPERIENCE
On Christmas Eve, eight years ago, Frank Ashman climbed into his vehicle after enjoying a couple beers at a football game. His 8-year-old son was in the passenger seat beside him, but having set aside the alcohol around halftime, he reasoned he was okay.
But on that day, after 20 years with a cavalier attitude on impaired driving, he took a left-hand turn at a red light, and his son died.
“No one can go 50 years drinking and drugging week-in and week-out and not have something bad happen. Something bad is going to happen,” he said. “If you think what happened to me can’t happen to you, then just keep doing what you’re doing. But it’s not if, it’s when. The consequences are building up.”
In 2002, Bonita Shea’s daughter, Lisa Ayn Shea, was killed by a drunk driver in Walton County as she traveled the long route from Ohio to visit her mother in Florida. The driver, going 87 mph in a 35 mph zone, collided with Lisa Ayn’s car, tipping the vehicle over and crushing her underneath. According to police, Bonita Shea said, Lisa Ayn died instantly. It isn’t much of a comfort.
“When something like this happens to you, you immediately lose hope. Your life changes forever,” Shea said. “It never gets better. It gets different, and you learn how to endure the difference.”
After the crash, Shea went to the site. She sat in her daughter’s car and gathered what was left of her belongings. To this day, Shea can still visualize what her daughter might have seen moments before impact. Now, she speaks for MADD at a variety of events to impart how lives — and not just the drunk driver’s — are affected by something so easily preventable.
“Everybody knows the law,” she said. “A vehicle is a loaded, lethal weapon, but people always think it is never going to happen to them.”
David Campbell realized when he lost his sister, Katie Rexford, to an alcohol-related crash that the ripples associated with her death went far beyond his nuclear family. Before an oncoming vehicle crossed the yellow line and collided with Rexford’s car in 1985, she worked as a special education teacher. To her students, a teacher that they loved was taken from them — and some may have never understood why.
“They just know that they lost Miss Katie,” Campbell said. “A lot of lives are affected, not just family. There’s a huge satellite of people that a death touches.”
To avoid loss, Campbell asks people to think like popular children’s television personality, Mr. Rogers, for a moment: Think for 10 seconds about a family member or a loved one and consider how they would feel if you died. Because, he said, it can happen if you drive under the influence — and that’s a huge penalty.
To avoid a DUI or an alcohol-related crash, Sgt. Tommy Crumley, a public information officer with the Jacksonville Beach Police Department, has several simple tips:
- Use public transportation, such as a cab, the trolley or even an Uber
- Designate a driver
- Be mindful of your actions
“The sad reality is that a momentary lapse in judgment could result in a catastrophic, life-changing event for the violator, as well as any victim involved,” he said. “These are so vast and so far reaching, it is hard to say what all of the unforeseen consequences truly are.”
Source: The Florida Times-Union