State and Local Laws
In the United States, the power to determine and impose penalties for drivers who violate traffic laws is granted to the state. All 50 states have agreed to make it illegal for a person to drive with a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.08% or higher. License suspension or revocation traditionally follows conviction for alcohol-impaired driving. Under a policy called administrative license suspension, licenses are taken before conviction when a driver fails or refuses to take a chemical test.
However, in many states, the penalties and fines associated with drunk driving can be mitigated if an alcohol education program is completed. Some states make such programs mandatory before reinstating a license. Normally, these programs offer drunk driving prevention education and evaluate the offender’s drinking habits. If the offender is determined to be alcohol dependent, he or she may be ordered to participate in counseling.
In 43 states, there are laws prohibiting passengers, drivers, or both from having an open container of alcohol in the vehicle. Also, 45 states exercise the right to install an ignition lock in the cars of drivers who violate drunk driving laws. An ignition lock is a machine that is connected to a car’s ignition and checks the driver’s blood alcohol content level. The driver has to blow into the machine to start the car and do so from time to time while the car is running. If alcohol is detected, the car either does not start or turns itself off.
The possibility of a “”hardship license”" exists in some states. This means that an offender is allowed certain driving privileges, which usually only permits them to drive to work if a special hardship is present (e.g., assuming the role of the family’s sole breadwinner).
Some states have stricter drunk driving laws and penalties than others. For example, in Virginia, once a driver violates traffic laws due to driving under the influence of alcohol, his or her license is suspended for one year. After the second and third offense, the license is suspended three years for each offense, with mandatory jail time after the second offense. Virginia does not allow for hardship licenses.
On the other hand, in Texas, drivers only lose their licenses for 90 days after their first alcohol-related offense. The second and third offenses warrant 180-day license suspensions. Texas does not have mandatory alcohol education programs for offenders.