Police officer giving driver a sobriety Test © Doug Menuez-Getty Images

Related topics: insurance, auto insurance, drunk driving, road safety, traffic tickets

If you need any more reasons not to drink and drive, consider this: A driving-under-the-influence conviction is a financial wrecking ball. A typical DUI costs about $10,000 by the time you pay bail, fines, fees and insurance, even if you didn't hit anything or hurt anybody.

The penalties are intended to discourage the behavior. Alcohol played a role in nearly 32% of U.S. automobile fatalities in 2009, the latest year for which figures are available. That's 10,839 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. An average of one alcohol-impaired-driving fatality occurred every 48 minutes in 2009.

So states are cracking down. The last of the 50 states have lowered their thresholds for DUI to 0.08% blood-alcohol content. Police arrested more than 1.4 million people in 2009 for driving under alcohol's grip, the FBI says.

But forget for a moment the humiliation and hassle. Forget the toll on lives. Just look at what a DUI does to your wallet:

Bail. You'll have to shell out bail to get released after your arrest. Cost: $150-$2,500 (using a bonding company is what raises the cost).

(Costs shown in this article are for first-time DUI offenders. Costs and penalties are often more severe if you're a repeat offender or your blood-alcohol content is above 0.15%.)

Towing. When you're arrested, your car gets towed. In some places, retrieving it costs only $100 or so. But Chicago, sensing a moneymaking opportunity, ensures it really hurts: The city charges about $1,200 for the first 24 hours and $50 for each additional day of storage, says Chicago DUI defense attorney Harold Wallin. If you can't afford to get your car after 30 days, the city auctions it off and then comes after you with a civil judgment for the impoundment bill, if the sale of the car didn't cover the fees. Some cities around Chicago are doing the same, Wallin says. Cost: $100-$1,200.

Insurance. One of the biggest hits a drunken driver takes is in his insurance premiums.

"If you get a DUI conviction, it will likely affect your insurance rates for (at least) the next three to five years," says Carole Walker, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.

How much? "They could double, triple, even quadruple," Walker says. Some companies such as State Farm Insurance will move you to a portion of the company that handles higher-risk policies.

But "some insurance companies will drop you even upon arrest, regardless of conviction," says Steven Oberman, a Knoxville, Tenn., DUI attorney who is the co-author of a national treatise on drunken-driving defense. And if your policy isn't renewed, you'll have to try to find insurance someplace else or see whether your state has an assigned-risk pool. Either way, you'll pay for it. For example: Illinois estimates that the high-risk insurance costs an additional $1,500 a year for three years, on average.

Why three years? Most insurance companies look at records for at least three years and sometimes for five years, Walker says. To begin rebuilding your reputation in an insurer's eyes, you have to keep your nose completely clean -- no speeding tickets or other traffic citations.

But the financial impact of that DUI doesn't end after three years: You'll likely have to go as many as five more years, incident-free, to get back to the "preferred" status with the lowest premiums that you perhaps once enjoyed. In short, "it can be up to eight years afterward" that the DUI can affect you, Walker says. Ouch. Cost: $4,500 or more.

Legal fees. Attorneys might charge as little as $250 to enter a quick guilty plea. But with so much at stake, many people accused of DUI fight the charge. That's when things start to add up.

Attorney Oberman says legal representation to contest the criminal charge can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $25,000, depending on the rigor and complexity of the defense. But that's not the only expense. Oberman says a vigorous defense sometimes requires hiring an investigator ($1,000 to $3,000) to interview witnesses, transcribe the police video and try to uncover evidence to discredit the arresting officer's testimony. There may be a need for expert witnesses who can testify about the accuracy, or lack thereof, of field sobriety tests ($3,000 and up). Usually, attorney Wallin says, fees are $2,000 to $3,000 for a trial on a first-offense case, although they can climb to $7,500 or more with some lawyers. Oberman says trial costs can be closer to $20,000. Cost: $2,000-$25,000.

Fines. Fines and court fees for breaking the law vary by state, from a minimum of $600 in Colorado and $685 in Washington to as much as $1,200 in Illinois. "The fines have gone up dramatically over the last few years in Illinois," says Wallin. "A few years ago in Chicago, the typical DUI fine was about $300 on the first offense. And now it's $900 to $1,200." Cost: $300-$1,200.

Alcohol evaluation. An evaluation is usually required of anyone who is sentenced for drunken driving. Cost: $250 in Illinois, for example.

Alcohol education and treatment. If you're convicted, you usually have to undergo an education or treatment program, especially if you want to get your license again. Treatment can vary hugely in scope and extent. Cost: $150-$2,000 for basic treatment.

Alcohol-monitoring leg bracelet. Scram devices, like that worn by actress Lindsay Lohan, which measure the alcohol content in your perspiration, are becoming more commonplace, Oberman says. Cost: about $100 to install and about $10 per day, or $300 per month.

License reinstatement fees. Once a driver has shown, by completing courses and treatment, that he deserves his license back, the state charges him for the reissue. Cost: $95-$250.

Additional fees. Colorado, for example, will slap you with myriad other fees:

  • $10-$50 jail filing fee.
  • $78 Victim Assistance Fund payment.
  • $33 Victim Compensation Fund payment.
  • $90 for the Law Enforcement Assistance Fund.
  • $15 Brain Injury surcharge.
  • $25 Victim Impact Panel assessment.

If you had been particularly drunk, a judge might order that an ignition lock be placed on your car to test your breath and prevent the vehicle from starting if you're intoxicated. In Tennessee, for example, this costs $75 a month, plus an installation fee. In Illinois, it's closer to $1,290, says attorney Wallin. Cost: $325 and up.

Finally, there are several other costs that you need to remember:

  • Life insurance premiums can rise. With a DUI arrest or conviction, you could see an increase in your life insurance bills, because insurers may ask if your license has ever been suspended.
  • Lost time means lost pay. People who get DUIs report missing a lot of work (and therefore losing a lot of income) dealing with their mistake, as a result of court dates, community service and sometimes a jail sentence. That doesn't even count the lost free time.
  • Lose the license, maybe lose the job. For many people who drive to and from work -- not to mention those who drive as part of their work -- losing a license can be devastating. And here's a shocker: In several states, including Washington, your license may be suspended for 90 days simply upon your arrest for DUI, regardless of whether you end up being convicted. If you're convicted, your license can be revoked for a year, or even longer in some states, until you complete all the court's requirements and pay all fines.
  • No drunks wanted in the cockpit or the ER. If you're a doctor, stockbroker, airline pilot, lawyer or nurse, a DUI conviction could affect the status of your professional license, Oberman said.
  • It's not good for the résumé. A DUI lingers on your criminal record for employers to see if they do a background check, harming your future job prospects. In Washington state, a DUI conviction stays on your driving record for 15 years, and an employer can ask for and receive that information. And a deferred prosecution, in which you're not convicted, stays on your record forever.

Adding it up

So in the end, how much does a DUI cost?

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The Stop-DWI Office in Erie County, N.Y., estimates that a drunken-driving conviction there costs $9,500 -- if the DUI did not result in any accident or injuries. Colorado estimates $10,270.

Illinois' secretary of state pegs the amount closer to $12,100, but says the figure would be more than $16,000, on average, if people counted the lost income from all the hassles.

Any way you slice it, it's a pricey mistake.

But the biggest thing that you lose isn't money, Oberman says. "The biggest thing here is the stigma that you get. Everybody looks at you and says, 'Yeah, he's the drunk driver.' And the stigma doesn't have a financial cost. But the stigma does have both a social cost and an employment cost."