If you or someone you know has even been on the wrong side of DUI checkpoint while driving in the Denver area, you probably can’t imagine a state that’s tougher on drunk driving than Colorado. Turns out, however, that there are 16 states with more strict laws on the books.
That’s according to a 2015 report from WalletHub that compares DUI laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The investigation used a point system that compared the different penalties and preventative measures of each state, then ranked the states according to strictness or leniency on drunken driving.
Colorado ranked 17th on the list, trailing behind Louisiana, Iowa, and Oregon. The study found that the top 10 strictest states are actually:
- West Virginia
- T- Georgia
- T- Washington
- T- Delaware
The 9th, 10th, and 11th spot is a three-way tie between Georgia, Washington, and Delaware, which all had equally strict DUI laws according to the WalletHub algorithm.
What Does This Mean For Colorado Drivers?
Although Colorado isn’t in the top 10 in terms of strict drunk driving law, our state laws and penalties are still harsher than ¾ of other states’ DUI laws. In other words, while we’re not the toughest state, drunk drivers still have it pretty tough here – and that’s not a bad thing.
After all, it’s pretty hard to argue with the idea that getting drunk drivers off of our roads makes everyone safer. The problem, however, is that sometimes the strictness of our laws also causes individuals to get caught up in them even when they don’t deserve it. If you look closer at WalletHub’s rankings, you’ll see what I mean.
While Colorado ranked 20th in the “Penalties” category, which compares penal elements like jail time, fines, and the punishments for multiple offenses, we ranked 4th in the “Prevention” category. This category awarded points for elements like sobriety checkpoints, insurance rate increases after DUIs, and license suspension. In other words, while our more serious penalties aren’t necessarily as severe as they are in other states, law enforcement here has no qualms about casting a wide net and punishing first time offenders – and even those who may not be guilty of driving under the influence at all.
To better understand Colorado’s relatively high rankings in both categories, we will have to look at the specific DUI laws in Colorado.
Colorado Drinking and Driving Laws
Colorado has two different criminal charges for intoxicated drivers: Driving Under the Influence and Driving While Ability Impaired – also known as DWAI.
Colorado’s DWAI law is unique. While driving in Colorado with a blood-alcohol content more than .08% results in a DUI (like in most states), driving with a BAC above .05% is still illegal. Drivers whose blood alcohol percentage falls above .05 but below .08 may receive a DWAI charge.
Essentially, the Driving While Ability Impaired law targets drivers who are intoxicated on drugs and/or alcohol who are below the standard legal limit of .08% BAC. While the penalties associated DWAI are less severe than a DUI, the latter is nonetheless a criminal charge (misdemeanor) that can have significant and long lasting effects. Some of the possible penalties include fines, incarceration, license suspension, and eight points on the driver’s record. A DWAI may also be taken into account if you are charged for future offenses, leading to increased punishments.
If you are charged with a DWAI, jail time can range from 2 to 180 days, and fines can range between $200 and $500. You also may have to:
- serve 24 to 48 hours of community service
- lose your license
- attend drug and alcohol counseling
Additionally, the charge may show up on your record, which can cause all sorts of problems. If you’ve been charged with a DWAI, an experienced criminal attorney can help ensure that you receive the best possible outcome, possibly even getting your charges reduced or dropped.
As is policy in most areas of the country, the state of Colorado charges drivers with a BAC over .08% with Driving Under the Influence. The first time you are caught driving above the legal limit, you face fines of $300-$100 dollars, 5 days to 1 year in jail, and 48 to 96 hours of community service. You will also have your license revoked for one year.
Colorado has recently employed new DUI penalties. Second DUI offenders face a 10-day minimum jail sentence , and drivers who receive three or more DUIs receive a minimum sentence of 60 days in jail. The maximum jail sentence for both second and third offenses is 1 year, and both offenses have a maximum $1,500 fine.
Many states have some version of Colorado’s express consent laws, sometimes referred to as “implied consent.” Put simply, these laws mean that when you drive a car in Colorado, you automatically give the law consent to test your breath, urine, and blood. If you are stopped and you refuse to take a sobriety test, your license is automatically suspended for one year.
If you refuse the test a second time, your license is suspended for two years. After one year of suspension under this penalty you are eligible to apply for a restricted license with an interlock ignition device. If you refuse the test a third time, your license with be suspended for three years, with eligibility for the above-mentioned restricted license after two.
What Can I Do to Fight My DUI or DWAI Charge?
Sometimes an experienced criminal attorney can get your charges reduced by helping you submit a plea bargain, in which you plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a lesser punishment. For example, your DUI lawyer may be able to negotiate a “wet reckless” charge, which is a conviction of reckless driving that involved alcohol.
Knowledgeable defense attorneys can also help you decide whether to plead a DUI or DWAI. In addition, a strong legal adviser may be able to help you avoid harsh sentencing by examining the circumstances of your arrest and calling into question the validity of breath and blood tests. Regardless of your situation, it is crucial to seek the counsel of an experienced criminal attorney with a track record of success in DUI cases.