Just paying the fines and court costs for a DUI conviction could leave you struggling to make ends meet. And that doesn’t include the other expenses that you could face along the way for legal fees, spikes in your insurance premiums, lost work time, the installation of an interlock ignition device, and beyond.
For the sake of this analysis, we’ll take a first time DUI—no accident or personal injury involved—as the basis for guesstimating your expenses.
By the way, these numbers are only fuzzy approximations. The true costs will depend sensitively on many factors, such as:
• Whether this is your first DUI, or whether you’re a repeat offender;
• Whether you broke other laws in the process (e.g. driving under age, hit and run, DUI with injury, etc.) or not;
• The quality of your legal defense;
• Whether your insurance company approaches your situation punitively and hikes your premium rates significantly or shows some understanding;
• …and dozens of other potentially meaningful pieces of information.
Fines and court costs ($1,800)
For a first-time DUI offender in California, the minimum penalty a court can impose is a fine of $390, as well as an additional assessment of $1,000–plus. You might be looking somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,800. The maximum penalties for a first time California DUI are substantial: you could face a $1,000 fine plus $2,600 in additional penalties.
(The costs get much steeper for subsequent offenses—up to $18,000 in penalties for a fourth offense if it occurs within a year of the third DUI conviction.)
DUI Driving School ($600)
When the court finds you guilty of DUI first offense in California, you’ll be required to attend a DUI driving school. The school runs for three months (30 hours) for a first offense. Judges may require repeat offenders to attend up to 90 hours of DUI school.
The state licenses AB 541 first offender programs, and it issues guidelines for their curriculum, but each program can approach DUI issues with some latitude. For instance, they can charge whatever tuition they feel is appropriate. The average cost of such programs is about $600 or more; they generally range from $300 to $1,800.
Ignition interlock device ($310)
As of January 1, 2019, California law will require all first time DUI offenders to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on their vehicles for six months. The cost of installing an IID can run from $70 to $150, while the devices can run anywhere from $60 to $80 a month.
- Installation (roughly) $100
- Three months @ $70 $210
- Total = $310
Legal expenses ($???)
Hiring a lawyer to defend you in a DUI case is usually a good idea, especially if you’re going to contest the charges. But there’s no easy way to put a figure on what legal representation is going to cost you. Legal fees will vary tremendously based on factors such as:
• Whether or not it’s your first offense;
• Whether or not your lawyer will need to call expert witnesses;
• Whether your case is exceptionally complex (e.g. if your DUI resulted in someone’s death or serious injury);
• Your attorney’s qualifications and experience.
Getting your license back ($150)
Police officers confiscated your driver’s license at the time of your DUI arrest. To get it back—after the expiration of any suspension or revocation period—you’ll have to pay the California DMV $125.
Before you can drive after a DUI conviction, you’ll also need to have your insurance company file an SR22 form with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. An SR 22 is a certificate of financial responsibility—a document that tells the DMV that you do have at least the minimum automobile insurance required to drive a car in California.
The insurer will charge you a fee for filing the SR22; the average cost is around $25.
Impoundment charges (two days) ($665)
Police officers can order the impoundment of your car when they arrest you for DUI. (If they’re in a good mood, they may allow someone else to come and pick it up, but you can’t count on that, since it’s up to their discretion.) To get your car back, you’ll have to pay the towing fees for them to transport it to an impoundment lot, a daily storage rate, a City of Los Angeles release fee and (adding insult to injury) a city parking tax of 10 percent of the storage fees.
(Judges also have the discretion of ordering your vehicle impounded for up to 90 days as part of your sentence, but this doesn’t happen often.)
For this example, we’ll assume you’ve been picked up for DUI on a Saturday evening, and you can’t rescue your car until Monday. The nearest Los Angeles impoundment lot is about 15 miles away, and it will take the tow truck about 70 minutes to make it there through traffic.
• Towing charges ($239 for the first hour plus $120 for $359 each fraction of an hour)
• Mileage rate ($7 per mile times 15) $105
• Storage charge standard vehicle: $39 per day times two $78
• City parking tax (10 percent of storage fees) $7.80
• City of Los Angeles release fee $115
Rounded total: $665
Increased insurance costs ($843)
According to the Value Penguin website, the average cost of auto insurance in California is $1,962 per year. (Of course, this number varies greatly depending on your age, the type of car you drive, your previous driving record, etc.)
Value Penguin also estimates that the multiplier used to determine the amount of a rate increase in California after a DUI is 1.43. That would make your new annual premium about $2,805—an increase of about $843.
Time missed from work ($320)
It’s hard to gauge how much time you’d have to miss from work due to your DUI arrest and conviction. But let’s take an conservative approach and suppose that it’s two days—16 hours to deal with everything from the aftermath of your arrest and court hearing to picking up your car at the impound lot and heading to the DMV to get your license back.
That’s 16 hours, assuming you work a regular eight-hour day. We’ll also assume you make about $20 an hour (an annual wage of $41,600.) That’s $320 in lost wages. Again, this is an extremely conservative number.
Cost of alternative transportation ($165)
When you’re arrested for a DUI, you’ll lose your license for at least 30 days. How will you get to work during that time? If you take mass transit (bus or train), a 30-day pass will cost you $100.
But you’ll also need to go grocery shopping and run other errands during that time. Let’s say you take an Uber twice a week to handle those trips, and that a five-mile trip to your preferred shopping area takes 10 minutes. The basic Uber service will cost you 15¢ per minute ($1.50) plus 9¢ per mile ($.45) plus a $2.10 service fee. The grand total for a one-way trip would be $4.05, and a round trip cost $8.10.
Multiply $8.10 x 2 (twice a week) x 4 weeks for your license suspension, and your Uber costs would run about $65. (And that doesn’t even count money spent to get to doctor’s appointments, for visiting family and friends, etc.)
The grand total
If you add up all these expenses—and they are just the bare minimum—you’re likely to be out of pocket at least $7,353 just for a first DUI. Add in any other complicating factors—time in jail (and lost wages); property damage or injury you’ll have to pay for, etc.–and your total bill could climb much higher.
That also doesn’t take into account the intangible costs of a DUI, including the threat to your job and the embarrassment of having to face family and friends.
So the next time you think you’re okay to drive—but really aren’t sure—compare the cost of a cab ride or an Uber to everything you could lose if you are picked up for DUI. It makes alternative transportation seem like a real bargain.