You Can’t Afford the Costs of Drunk Driving

Costs of Drunk Driving

Don’t let this be you.

We all know better than to drink and drive.

After years of public awareness campaigns and candlelight vigils for victims of drunken driving, no one can claim ignorance of the fact that driving drunk is dangerous and illegal.

And yet, according the CDC, there are 112 million incidents of drinking and driving annually—which means people are driving intoxicated almost 300,000 times daily.

Of course, no one decides to drink and drive because they want to become a statistic. They do it because no one believes that something terrible could actually happen to them. Because people believe that they are able to “handle their liquor” or that they don’t have far to drive, they make this disastrous and life-changing decision over and over again.

While the truly horrific consequences of drunk driving might not seem real to anyone, it is possible that the potential economic costs of this decision will hit home for more people. After all, drivers are statistically much more likely to be arrested for DUI than to be involved in an alcohol-related wreck if they drive under the influence. And it’s much easier to imagine the ways that a DUI conviction could wreck your finances than it is to think about potentially fatal consequences.

Which is why we should educate ourselves about the economic costs of drunk driving. Protecting one’s wallet might be enough of a motivator to get a sober ride home—which will ultimately protect lives. Here is what you need to know about how driving drunk affects the driver’s bottom line:

Costs the Day of the DUI

After your arrest for DUI, you will either need to make bail or cool your jets in the county’s finest accommodations until your arraignment. (No matter what, you’re likely to have to stay in jail for 12 hours before you can be released on bail.) Bail costs can range from $150 to $2500, although costs at the higher end of the spectrum reflect the additional cost of having to use a bonding agency.

In addition, bail costs can potentially be set higher if you are a repeat offender or if your blood-alcohol level is above 0.15%. (The threshold in all 50 states for DUI is 0.8% blood-alcohol content.)

Even once you are out on bail, your immediate costs are not yet over. Cars involved in DUI arrests are towed to impound lots, which means you will have to pay to retrieve it. While some impound costs are as low as $100 for the first 24 hours, some cities (Chicago in particular) use DUI towing as an opportunity to make some additional money. To get your car in Chicago, you will need to pay $1200 within the first 24 hours, and an additional $50 for each extra day of storage. If you can’t pay after 30 days, your car will be auctioned off.

Legal Costs

If you are putting in a simple guilty plea, you can do this yourself without any additional costs. However, considering the fact that a DUI is a criminal conviction, many drivers will choose to fight the charge, which means having a lawyer. Lawyer’s fees can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000, depending on the complexity of the case.

Even with a simple guilty plea, you will be expected to pay a fine, and in some cases, court fees. Depending on where you live, these can cost anywhere from $300 to $1200.

Costs of Getting Back Your License

After your DUI, you will need to prove that you are worthy of getting your license back. That begins with an alcohol and/or substance evaluation, wherein a licensed counselor will determine whether or not you are dependent on alcohol and if there is any need for further alcohol treatment or rehabilitation. You are required to pay for this evaluation, which generally costs around $200-$400.

Depending on your counselor’s recommendation, you may have to undergo treatment or, at the very least, an educational program. Treatment and education can cost you anywhere from $100 to $2000.

Repeat offenders or those with severe alcohol problems may find that they are required to wear an alcohol monitoring leg bracelet, which costs about $100 to install and costs an additional $10 per day. Alternatively, you may be required to install an ignition lock on your car that prohibits the car from starting unless you can pass an attached breathalyzer test. You will need to pay an installation fee and a monthly fee for this gadget, to the tune of $325 or more.

Finally, when you are deemed ready to have your license reinstated, you will have to pay fees to the state for getting it back. Depending on your state, this will cost between $95 and $250.

Long Term Costs

The most obvious cost that will rise after a DUI is your auto insurance premiums. By driving drunk, you’ve shown your insurer that you’re not a good risk. Some companies will simply drop you upon your arrest, leaving you scrambling to find another insurer.

Even if your insurance company is willing to keep you, you’ll have to pay through the nose for at least three to five years. Generally, you can expect to spend about $1,500 more per year on your insurance.

A less obvious—but no less devastating—cost is the hit to your job. At best, a DUI will mean time away from work for court dates and court-mandated community service or therapies. If you do not have personal time to use for that, your DUI will cost you income.

But in the worst case, a DUI can actually cost your job. If you drive for your job, you clearly will be unable to function without your license. Even if you simply need to drive to and from work, the loss of your license could make it difficult or impossible to get to work.

And those concerns don’t even include those professions that do not tolerate DUIs: doctors, nurses, airline pilots, lawyers, and stockbrokers are all individuals that may find their professional licenses in jeopardy after drinking and driving.

The Bottom Line

When you add it all up, the going rate for a DUI conviction is at least $10,000, and probably a great deal more. Of course, the cost pales in comparison to both the stigma and shame of being a drunk driver.

But no one thinks of that stigma in the moment that they decide to drive home after a night out. Perhaps they might think of their finances. If all else fails, use these facts to convince an impaired driver to relinquish their keys.

It’s more than just their finances at stake.

Have you ever been convicted or know someone convicted of drunk driving? Can you share what your approximate costs were?

Image by Alex E. Proimos

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About Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is an award-winning writer, author, money coach, and retirement expert. Her four books include The Five Years Before You Retire, Choose Your Retirement, Making Social Security Work For You, and End Financial Stress Now.


    Speak Your Mind


  1. The real cost is the Loss of Life ~ of the innocent person…….That cannot be calculated.
    My son was 14……..I lost my son and ultimately the family did not survive.
    It’s so easy…..if you drink ~ don’t drive…….please

  2. From where I live, the cost of a cab home is $10. That is much easier to swallow. Even going fancy with an Uber, I have never paid more than $20. I always ask my friends, before they leave anywhere, if they are safe to drive home.

  3. hereverycentcounts says

    I got a DUI in July 2012 and have written extensively about it and how much it cost me on my blog. In a recent post, I broke down all of the fees/fines that I had to pay, which will be $8k-$10k when all is said and done. This was my first (and last) DUI. Your estimates above are fairly accurate. I did not need to pay bail (usually first offenses don’t) and also was fortunate in that my car was parked in a legal spot (I wasn’t driving when I was arrested) so it wasn’t towed. Still, the costs quickly added up. More details can be found here:

  4. My little brother is currently on house arrest with the ankle bracelet for his 5th DUI (I have no idea why he hasn’t learned).  He spent a week in the county jail, about

    • $2500 on lawyer fees, a fine of about $1600, he hasn’t had a license for 2 years now and it’s caused problems with him and work – he just simply can’t get to work unless my mom drives him. (They live in a rural area with no bus service or public transportation of any kind).  He’s also completely at the mercy of his parole officer.  If his parole officer decides one day that he has to come in for a meeting – he has to skip work and go meet with him (luckily, his officer is pretty hands off).  He has to tell his officer a week in advance what his work schedule is, and his boss has to sign the paperwork.  And he used to work in construction – not exactly the most timely line of work.  So, not only does he owe money (and if you don’t pay on time, they tack on more fees), he can’t get to work to make the money that he needs to pay his debts.  The system (at least in Western PA) is kinda stacked against the offender.

      • Philip Taylor says

        Thanks so much for sharing your story. Sorry to hear about your little brother. Hopefully he makes better choices in the future.

  5. One of my friend’s sons was convicted multiple times and it finally realized he should stop this behavior.  It is too bad he had to go through it so many times to wise up.