Monday, July 05, 2004

High Cost of DWI Arrest

Court costs, insurance-rate spikes and lost wages can cripple those who are convicted of drinking and driving.

With the July Fourth holiday weekend beginning today, law enforcement agencies throughout the state will be cracking down on drunken drivers.

Texas is one of several states participating in ''Operation C.A.R.E.'' (Combined Accident Reduction Effort). The program is a nationwide campaign by state police agencies to reduce the number of fatalities during holiday periods.

All available Texas Department of Public Safety troopers will be patrolling Texas roadways targeting speeders, drunken drivers and seat belt violators during the weekend.

The DPS also is supporting a national crackdown on drunken drivers this weekend with the ''Drink. Drive. Go to Jail.'' campaign. In Texas, the legal blood alcohol content level is 0.08.

''All troopers, all cars will be on the road,'' said Sparky Dean, a DPS spokesman. ''We're taking it serious, the drunk drivers. We're going to do our best to make sure they don't stay out there because we have a place for them. Anytime we arrest a drunk driver ... they go to jail.''

The Abilene Police Department also is using extra officers for patrol this weekend, said Ken Merchant, assistant chief.

''We're going to have a lot of extra people out there to put it bluntly,'' Merchant said. ''This is not a good weekend to be out roaming around and doing bad things.''

Merchant termed looking for drunken drivers the ''priority'' during the weekend.

A DWI conviction can cost as much as a $2,000 fine and more than $200 in court costs, said Sam Carroll, a Taylor County prosecutor.

The hit to the pocketbook does not end there.

''The financial ramifications are huge,'' said Rhonda Young, a personal financial representative with Allstate. ''If the person is insured, and they get charged with a DWI, it's grounds for dismissal. Not all companies do that, but it can happen.''

Young said a person charged with a DWI probably will lose any good driving standards they have obtained with the insurance company and will have to buy more expensive high-risk insurance.

People with a DWI conviction also must file an SR-22 with the state. An SR-22 insurance policy is a certificate of insurance that shows the DPS proof of insurance.

There is a charge to file an SR-22 with the state, and Young said some insurance companies may charge up to 50 percent more on insurance premiums to drivers who are required to file the policy.

''If the coverage lapses, the state will pull their license,'' Young said.

Young said she has seen many people devastated by a DWI.

''What it does to make a living and pay their bills is awful,'' she said. ''Somebody who has been driving for $400 to $500 (insurance) every six months may have to pay $3,000 every six months. If they're not paid pretty well, all of a sudden they can't drive.''


Fast Facts about DWIs:

First offense (class B misdemeanor): Fine of up to $2,000, jail term of three days to six months, license suspension from three months to one year. If the judge opts for probation, an alcohol education program is required within six months.

Second offense (class A misdemeanor): Fine of up to $4,000, minimum jail term of 30 days or up to one year, license suspension from six months to two years. If a second DWI conviction takes place within five years, there is a minimum one-year license suspension and the driver must have an ignition interlock installed on the vehicle for the year following the suspension.

Third offense (second-degree felony): Fine of up to $10,000, two to 10 years in prison, license suspension of six months to two years.

It adds up: The DPS estimates that a first-offense DWI costs at least $3,180 and could cost as much as $17,000, not including lost work time and liability costs.

Source: Texas Department of Public Safety
For additional information: go to Judge David Finn

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