This is a collaborative post about the financial cost of a DWI.
All it takes is one small decision — that last India pale ale or whiskey sour, the twist of your keys in the ignition, a glance at the phone in your hand instead of the road ahead — and you could find yourself in a whole heap of trouble.
For starters, you could get into an accident that will leave you injured and your car dented and damaged. In fact, you might very well total your car. You could do damage to property and be held liable for repairs to that property. Worst of all, you could hurt or even kill innocent people who are simply making their way home at the end of the evening.
And then there are the financial implications of driving while intoxicated. Even if no one has been injured and you don’t get into an accident, the cost of this mistake can be devastating. Let’s take a closer look.
A study conducted by Martindale-Nolo Research found that the average cost of a first-time DWI offense comes in at $6,500. Of course, this figure varies widely depending on the jurisdiction, the extent of the accident, and what the judge decides in terms of punishment. In general, however, you can expect to pay between $1,000 and $8K or even a cool $10K to dig yourself out of the DWI hole.
How Much Does a DWI Cost?
Fees You’ll Face Right Away
After you have an accident or are stopped for a DWI, you will go to jail and your car will be towed to an impound lot. To spring yourself, you’ll pay a couple of hundred dollars in bail. To free your vehicle from car jail, expect to spend about the same amount, but up to $1,000.
Next, you’ll need to secure the services of an attorney. It’s rarely a smart move to defend yourself in court, or indeed in any legal situation, and a DWI case is no exception. You stand the best chances of getting off relatively easy if you have legal representation.
“An attorney may be able to negotiate with the judge to get your charges lowered or even dismissed,” explains David Hunter, a DWI lawyer in Sugarland TX. “In addition, they will likely be familiar with the judge presiding over your case, and so they have a leg up when it comes to bargaining over the terms of your punishment.”
In the survey referenced above, first-time offenders paid an average of $1,900 in attorney’s fees and expenses. You’ll also be on the hook for court costs totaling some $8K, give or take.
Charges Related to DWI Consequences
For most crimes, the consequences are either jail time or a fine — sometimes both. DWI charges, however, can be much more complicated.
The fines you will face if you’re convicted vary widely, but for a first DWI offense, you’re probably looking at a maximum of about $1,800. There’s also the possibility that you will be fined not just as your punishment but for your punishment; you can be charged for being sentenced, for spending time in jail, and for meeting with your probation officer after the case is concluded. These fees are probably going to set you back anywhere between a few hundred and about $2,000.
The judge in your case may stipulate that you must fulfill an alcohol- or drug-related educational requirement, and these classes are usually pricey. Plan on $1K to $3K for those. Then there’s community service. You might think that costs you nothing but your time, but most community service programs will actually charge a fee for supervision. Typically this is less than $100, but it could be greater.
Ignition interlock devices are becoming more common, even for first-time offenders, and those too are expensive, between $500 and $5K.
Lastly, there’s something called “Driver Responsibility Fees.” Not every state has them, but in those that do, you will have to pay up to $2,000. Another common condition of probation is submitting to, and passing, random urine screenings for alcohol or drugs. Guess who foots the bill for those? Yep, you do.
Incidental Costs After a Conviction of DWI
So you’ve paid to bail out, paid your court fees, paid to get your car back, paid to have an ignition interlock device installed, and paid your attorney. Can you put away your wallet now? Nope, not yet.
If your license has been suspended or revoked, go ahead and factor in the cost of public transportation. Before you can start driving again, there’s a license reinstatement fee of approximately $200 maximum.
You’ll also have to account for a spike in your insurance premiums since the insurance company will now consider you a high-risk driver. These added costs might take an additional $1,000 to $10,000 out of your pocket each year.
As you can see, getting a DWI is an expensive proposition! Even if you manage to walk away from the situation without a conviction, there are still plenty of fees to pay. If you are convicted, the tally gets longer. And this is just for first-time offenders. Repeat offenders will find that their fines and costs increase with each additional charge of DWI.
The next time your buddy offers to buy you “one for the road,” or you think to yourself, “It’s only a couple of miles, I’ll just be extra careful,” remember this breakdown and just how much a DWI can cost you. Weigh that against the cost of a taxi or Uber, and make the right decision.