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Drunk driving

Drunk driving (drink driving in the UK) or drinking and driving is the act of operating a motor vehicle after having consumed alcohol (i.e.ethanol) or drugs to the degree that mental and motor skills are impaired. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in the US alone, 17,419 people died in 2002 in drunk driving collisions, representing 41 percent of total traffic deaths in that country. The actual number is closer to 8,000, as the method used by this government organisation includes pedestrians and passengers and many non-drunk drivers. According to the same biased source, over 500,000 people were injured in drunk driving accidents in the US in 2001.

Laws regarding operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Drunk driving is illegal in most jurisdictions; laws prohibiting it refer, for instance, to driving while intoxicated (DWI), driving under the influence [of alcohol or other drugs] (DUI), or drunk in charge [of a vehicle]. Such laws also apply to boating, likewise often called boating while intoxicated (BWI) or boating under the influence (BUI). Laws also prohibit piloting aircraft while intoxicated.

Most states in the U.S. designate a "per se" blood or breath alcohol level as the threshold point where a person is presumed to be impaired. The most common blood alcohol content (BAC) "legal limit" in the United States is 0.08%. Only three states still use the more lax, once-common standard of 0.10%. Prior to wider emphasis on drinking and driving in the 1980s, standards of 0.12% were also in place in some states. The legal limit for aircraft pilots in the U.S. is set at 0.04% while in the UK it is 0.02% for flight crew and 0.08% for groundcrew.

Unlike DUI cases that involve alcohol, there is no "per se" or legal limit that is employed for persons accused of driving under the influence of prescription medication or illicit drugs. Instead, the key inquiry focuses on whether the driver's faculties were impaired by the substance that was consumed. The detection and successful prosecution of drivers impaired by prescription medication or illegal drugs is therefore quite difficult. Similarly, although urinalysis toxicology screens can detect the presence of such substances in the driver's bloodstream, these analyses are unable to demonstrate that the substance was actually causing impairment at the time of driving. In response to these problems, several jurisdictions are currently considering legislation that would establish "zero tolerance" laws for those drivers arrested for DUI and found to have drugs or medication in their system. Additionally, technology is being developed for the purpose of administering roadside or laboratory tests that can detect the actual level of a controlled substance in an individual's body.

Many jurisdictions require more serious penalties (i.e., jail time, larger fines, longer DUI program, the installation of ignition interlockdevices) in cases where the driver's BAC is over 0.20%. These additional sanctions are an attempt to deter and punish the operation of a vehicle at extremely high BAC levels and the concomittant danger posed to the safety of persons and property by heavily impaired drivers. In many cases, the reason given for these additional sanctions is because an average person would have passed out from that much alcohol. To be able to drive at that level, a person has to have gotten drunk regularly for years, to increase his/her alcohol tolerance, and therefore is likely to have driven drunk repeatedly. However, since there is currently no standard test to measure alcohol tolerance, proponents of high-BAC additional penalties point to some studies that indicate that high-BAC offenders are more likely to be involved in a crash and more likely to recidivate. Critics of such laws point out that, due to the wide variation of alcohol tolerance, people with a high tolerance will suffer the additional penalties, even though they are less impaired than people with a low tolerance that were driving with a much lower BAC.

In most U.S. states, there are additional administrative laws that further penalize people convicted of DUI, typically enforced by the department that issues driver's licenses, usually titled Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), or Department of Licensing.

History of drunk driving laws

The first jurisdiction in the United States of America to adopt laws against drunk driving was New York in 1910, with California and others following. Early laws simply prohibited driving while intoxicated, with no specific definition of what level of inebriation qualified.

In the US, most of the laws and penalties were greatly enhanced starting in the early 1980s, and through the 1990s, largely due to pressure from groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD). Also during this era, enforcement of drunk driving laws became a priority for police for the first time.

In some areas of the country, including New York City, it's part of police procedure to impound cars of arrested drunk drivers. The offenders forfeit the cars permanently if they are convicted.

Sample timeline of a typical DUI arrest

The following is what can happen when a law enforcement officer has a reason to suspect a driver is intoxicated. Some possible reasons are erratic driving, poor coordination, and/or the presence of the smell of alcohol.

Field sobriety test

The officer will administer one or more field sobriety tests (FSTs). Some common FSTs include having the driver:
• try to walk in a straight line, heel-to-toe.
• tip his or her head back with eyes closed and try to touch the tip of the nose with the index finger.
• stand on one foot.
• reciting all or part of the alphabet.

FSTs are better at determining the level of impairment than they are at estimating the driver's BAC.

The (US) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has scientifically determined that three FSTs are statistically reliable in detecting impaired drivers. These three "standardized" tests are the "Walk and Turn" test, the "One-leg Stand" and "Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus" in which a law enforcement officer observes the discrete movements of a person's eyes when tracking a stimulus across their field of vision.

Chemical test

If arrested, the driver is brought to the police station, and given one or more chemical tests: breath, urine, and/or blood. Breath test results are usually available immediately and are sometimes given before the actual arrest takes place; urine and blood samples are sent to a lab to determine the BAC. In some jurisdictions, refusing to take a breathalyzer test is an offense in itself, often creating an automatic assumption of guilt under the law.

Chemical tests are better at determining the driver's BAC than they are at estimating the level of impairment, but their accuracy is disputed by some; see blood alcohol test assumptions. In any case, tests can only determine the BAC at the time the test is taken, which sometimes can be higher than when the vehicle was actually operated, in the case of a driver who drank a large volume immediately before driving.

Next step

If it is determined that the person is not legally intoxicated, they might be released without any charges. However, many jurisdictions have charges which don't require a particular BAC, and tests for some drugs (such as GHB) will not show up in a test designed for alcohol.

Most of the time, the driver will either be kept in a holding cell (the "drunk tank") until they are deemed sober enough to be released, or sent to jail to wait for their first court hearing (or until they can get bailed out).

Visit Wikipedia to further review or edit the terminology for this word.

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