Drunk driving is a serious problem, accounting for about 30 deaths in the United States each day, according to the CDC.
Photo: Photo Illustration
Photo: Photo Illustration

Drunk driving A-Z: What you need to know in Georgia

Many love to celebrate the holidays, or even the weekend, by having some drinks with friends. However, it's important for drivers to plan how they will return home safely after a night out without endangering other drivers.

Between 2003 and 2012, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 3,699 people in Georgia were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver. One in three accidents nationwide involve a drunk driver.

If someone is involved in a wreck where one party is charged with DUI, understanding the law and available options can help drivers avoid unnecessary panic. Learning about how alcohol affects judgment on the road can also help drivers make more responsible decisions. Here are a few steps to guide you through Georgia DUI laws, as well as ways to legally protect yourself if the worst occurs.

1. Know the Repercussions

Drunk driving is not just dangerous; it also comes with strict legal and financial punishments. First time DUI offenders in Georgia face not only possible jail or license suspension, but also have to pay a $300 minimum fine, serve at least 40 hours of community service and pay a $210 license reinstatement fee, according to the Governor's Office of Highway Safety in Georgia.

A second or third conviction within ten years means mandatory jail time, increased fines and clinical evaluations to determine if a substance abuse program is necessary. The charge also might be upgraded to a felony. If a driver is declared a habitual violator, his license plate will be seized and his name, address and picture will have to run in a local paper at his expense, according to the Office of Highway Safety and the Georgia Code. Judges may choose to require a driver to use an ignition interlock device -- a lock that only allows drivers to pilot the car if their BAC is below the legally acceptable limit, according to the Georgia Department of Driver's Services.

The true cost of a DUI varies from state to state and can total in the thousands, according to Esurance's website. Because the convicted driver will also most likely be labeled a high risk driver, their insurance premiums might be increased dramatically.

Drivers may request that prosecutors expunge a DUI charge if the case hasn't been prosecuted or has been dismissed, However, DUI convictions in Georgia are impossible to expunge from someone's driving record. Those charged with the offense should contact a personal attorney immediately to find out how to minimize the charge's impact on their lives.

2. Know Your Limit

When a driver is pulled over for suspected drunk driving, her blood alcohol concentration is a major factor in determining whether a DUI charge is appropriate. Alcohol can be measured within 30 to 70 minutes of a person's last drink because the alcohol is absorbed quickly through the stomach wall, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A person's concentration depends on a number of factors, such as height, weight, metabolism and the number of drinks had within a small period of time. On average a drink containing one ounce of alcohol will raise a woman's BAC by .20 and a man's by .17, according to Virginia Tech's website.

In Georgia, drivers can be arrested for DUI if their concentration registers 0.08 percent -- the limit at which officials have determined drinkers begin to exhibit poor judgement and lose muscle coordination -- on a breathalyzer, according to the Georgia Code. For a commercial driver, that amount is halved to 0.04 percent. People under 21 are under a much stricter amount -- 0.02 percent.

Because of alcohol's effects, it can be difficult for a person to judge whether she drank too much to drive. Online BAC calculators can help someone determine if she is unfit to drive, but only time will help a person get home safely. Quick sobering up techniques, such as coffee or exercise, don't work, according to the University of Madison-Wisconsin. Caffeine can actually mask the intoxicated state, making it easier for a driver to not only drink past a safe limit, but also make reckless decisions on the road.

3. Arrange a Ride

Because it is difficult for a person to determine how intoxicated he actually is, drivers should plan on finding ways to avoid driving when they plan to be drinking, either through arranging a ride, taking free transportation or using many services offered to help those who want to avoid driving while drunk.

In some areas, people can use apps to reserve taxis ahead of time that can chauffeur to and from the location where they'll be drinking. In the Atlanta area, party goers can also take advantage of MARTA shuttles to get to their homes. Companies such as Uber can also be used in the Atlanta area. Several driving services operate year-round in the metro Atlanta area. SafeRide America charges $15 for pick up and $3 for each mile. BeMyDD, another company, sends a driver to take the customer home in their own car. In addition to those options, AAA maintains a list of companies that provide driver services in each state.

4. DUI Charges and Wrecks

Though any vehicle accident should be taken seriously, wrecks involving someone suspected of DUI can be especially difficult to navigate, especially when the crash involves serious injuries.

In a wreck with serious injuries or fatalities, a driver suspected of drunk driving is required to submit to a chemical test under Georgia's informed consent law. As with other accidents, both drivers may want to document damages, injuries and other facts important to consider about the crash, as well as collect contact information from other vehicle occupants and witnesses. The State Bar of Georgia provides a form that can be used in these instances.

In Georgia, a driver could face a felony charge of serious injury by vehicle if someone else is injured during a wreck involving a DUI, according to the Georgia Code. That conviction could result in imprisonment of no less than one year and up to 15 years. If the victim or victims in the crash die, the driver could face a felony homicide by vehicle conviction and be imprisoned for no less than three years. A habitual DUI violator convicted of the same charge would face five years in prison. Tactics for fighting such charges vary depending on the circumstances of the case, so contacting a personal attorney quickly is crucial.

Besides fighting legal convictions, drivers involved in DUI wrecks will have to contact their insurance providers to find out if any damages and medical costs will be paid. Insurance companies' policies on covering DUI related costs vary depending on the circumstances.

Even in a DUI charge where no wreck is involved, customers may have to file an SR-22 through their insurance agency. The form serves as proof that the customer has the proper amount of insurance necessary, as mandated by Georgia Code, according to Progressive. After a DUI charge or wreck, drivers have 10 days to file an appeal with the Georgia Department of Driver Services, according to the department's law enforcement guide. Failure to do this could mean a license suspension of up to one year.

People injured in wrecks involving DUI charges should be contacted at some point by a prosecutor who will handle their case, according to the DWI Prosecutor's Handbook written by the National Traffic Law Center. Since these documents will be part of any court proceedings involving the DUI charges, victims may want to keep any medical records, pictures or other evidence resulting from the crash for their own files. Victim's advocates who work with the prosecutor can also help victims tackle any funeral expenses, medical bills or grief counseling that's needed after the accident, according to the handbook.

Drivers also may want to contact the other driver's insurance to report the accident. As with other auto accidents, Georgia law allows parties to bring claims forward up to two years after personal injury and four years after property damage. Contacting a personal attorney can reveal options available for recouping damages caused by the wreck.

If a driver was injured in a wreck while working, she should reach out to the State Board of Worker's Compensation for more information on how to file a claim. Severe injuries, such as paralysis, head trauma, severe burns and amputations, may entitle a Georgia worker to two thirds of their weekly income, up to $550 a week, for as long as they are unable to return to work. Victims with less severe injuries can receive the same benefits for up to 400 weeks.

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