As much as we try to prevent drinking and driving, the reality is that people make mistakes. Sure, some people drive drunk habitually, but most people caught drinking and driving have never done so before. It can be nerve-wracking to be pulled over and tested. It can be devastating to be arrested. And what comes next can be almost as stressful.
Pennsylvania uses a tiered approach to punishing drunk drivers, based on their blood alcohol content (BAC):
- BAC of 0.08 to 0.099 percent – lowest penalty
- BAC of 0.10 to 0.159 – medium penalty
- BAC of 0.16 or greater – highest penalty
As a first-time offender in the lowest tier, you should expect to get about six months of probation and a $300 fine. You will probably also be ordered to take alcohol highway safety school and may be ordered to undergo treatment. Only in rare cases will your license be suspended.
If your BAC falls in the medium range, you will likely be sentenced to between five days and six months in jail and a fine of between $500 and $5,000. Your driver’s license could be suspended for a year. You could also be ordered to go to alcohol highway safety school or treatment.
The harshest penalties are reserved for people Pennsylvania considers to have been driving with a dangerously high BAC. You should expect up to six months in jail and a fine of between $1,000 and $5,000, along with a year-long license suspension. Alcohol highway safety school and treatment are likely.
Will I have to have an ignition interlock on my car?
An ignition interlock device is like a breathalyzer for your car. It requires you to blow a clean breath sample or the car will not start. When these are ordered, you must install and maintain them at your own expense, and the cost can be rather high.
The good news is that, although Pennsylvania judges have the authority to order ignition interlocks after a first offense, it’s unusual for them to do so.
What happens if I refused the breathalyzer test?
If this is your first offense, you’re facing a one-year license suspension just for refusing. This is called an “implied consent” law, and it assumes that everyone driving on Pennsylvania’s roadways automatically agrees to take a chemical test to determine their BAC.
Even if you refuse to take a blood, breath or urine test, you can still be charged with DUI. And, the license suspension for refusal to take a chemical test goes into effect soon after your arrest and will continue regardless of the outcome of your DUI case.
The Alternative Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program
ARD is a special program for first-time DUI offenders in Pennsylvania. Instead of going to court on the DUI charge, ARD offers you a chance to clear your record. You must meet certain qualifications and be accepted into the program by the local district attorney.
During the course of the two-year program, you will be monitored for program compliance in a way that is similar to probation. If you violate the terms of the program, you will be asked to leave and your DUI charges will be reinstated.
Once you complete the ARD program, your DUI charge is dismissed and can be expunged from your record. It will be as if you were never charged with DUI, leaving you free to pursue jobs, housing and other opportunities that can be curtailed by a DUI conviction.