California, Where First DUI Can Cost $16,000, May Let Bars Stay Open until 4 a.m.

Monday, March 18, 2013


California, like all states, takes drunk driving seriously. During the 30+ years that Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has campaigned to toughen up laws nationwide, drunk-driving-related deaths have plummeted and awareness of the problem has risen dramatically.

Some argue that hypocrisy about the issue has kept pace with the rise in consciousness.

The Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA) estimates that drivers pay $15,649 (over 10 years) for their first-driving-under-the-influence (DUI) conviction. Teenagers pay a lot more, $22,492. A big chunk of that is for higher auto insurance rates, accounting for most of the 29% increase since 2011. Expenses include fines, penalties, vehicle tow/storage, legal fees and mandatory alcohol education classes, but do not include loss of income, medical costs, civil liability or vehicular damage.

The message is clear: people should pay a heavy price for driving while under the influence of alcohol. But society also sends another message, judging by the continued popularity of drinking in bars, at parties and other locations where driving home is the evening’s final act of exuberant behavior. Have a good time, but don’t get caught.

Around 8% of all drivers admitted in a 2010 survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that they drove while under the influence at least once during the year. Two years earlier, 20% admitted driving within two hours of drinking and another 8% said they let a drunk driver drive them around. And those are just the people who fess up or don’t underestimate the extent of their drinking.

Now, California legislators are pondering legislation that would add a new wrinkle to our schizophrenic attitude about drunk driving. State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 635 last month, which would give local governing bodies authorization to extend the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., like Miami, New York and Las Vegas.

The bill, which is supported by the California Restaurant Association, Golden Gate Restaurant Association, California Music and Culture Association and San Francisco Council of District Merchants, is aimed at encouraging tourism, adding jobs and pumping more entertainment bucks into local economies. It does not apply to the sale of alcohol in stores. According to Leno’s website, “nightlife establishments in the City of San Francisco generated $4.2 billion in spending in 2010” and produced $55 million in local tax revenue.

Leno’s website does not make any mention of the bill’s potential impact on drunk driving.   

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Don't Press Your St. Patrick's Day Luck: Designate a Driver; Cost of a First-Offense DUI Now $15,649 (Automobile Club of Southern California)

First Drunk-Driving Conviction Can Cost Nearly $16,000 in California (by Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times)

Extended Alcohol Service Proposed in Calif. (by Wyatt Buchanan, San Francisco Chronicle)

Lawmaker Wants Longer Hours for California Bars (by Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times)

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