Drivers face DUI reperucssions

By Dave Gomez

At its worst, drunken driving’s aftermath is apparent: twisted car wrecks, injured or dead motorists and mourning families.

But even when crashes don’t occur, a DUI can still wreak havoc in a driver’s life.

DeKalb police made 208 traffic arrests for DUIs last year. University police made 30 arrests for alcohol-related violations in 2003, although they do not specify how many are for DUIs.

Under Illinois law, a person is considered to be driving under the influence if his or her blood alcohol content level reaches or exceeds .08, although drivers with lower levels still can be charged if police consider them incapable of driving safely.

A driver’s first DUI is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries penalties of up to two years probation, a year in county jail and a fine between $500 and $2,500.

Offenders also would be assessed to determine how many hours of mandatory alcohol counseling they would be required to complete.

Under Illinois law, a person found guilty of a DUI is eligible only once for court supervision, regardless of when the last incident occurred.

“It would be part of their driving record for the rest of their life,” said DeKalb County assistant state’s attorney Stephanie Klein.

A DUI conviction will not affect a student’s eligibility for financial aid unless he or she also is found to possess illegal substances, said Inali Saghu, an NIU financial aid counselor.

While lawyers’ fees and civil suits can hurt a driver’s wallet in the courtroom, the troubles don’t always end there. Repair bills following an accident can cost thousands of dollars, and insurance rates can skyrocket whether or not there was an accident.

Insurance companies immediately drop clients convicted of drunken driving, leaving them eligible only for “high risk” indemnity insurance, which can be twice as expensive, Allstate Insurance spokesman Mike Saemienas said.

U.S. consumers paid an average premium of $879.99 annually for auto insurance in 2002, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

The policy doesn’t impact just the guilty driver. Family members under the same policy also are dropped, Saemienas said. Parents have to prove their son or daughter had his or her own policy before being rewritten for their own, Saemienas said.

Convicted drivers usually need to have a clean record for three years before being considered eligible for standard insurance again.

A second DUI conviction automatically results in a revoked driver’s license and requires the driver to apply to the Secretary of State’s Office for reinstatement.

Laws recently enacted in Illinois pose harsh penalties for people driving with a license suspended or revoked for DUI, including vehicle forfeiture, said attorney Donald Henderson Jr., director of NIU’s Student Legal Assistance, which represents students for legal matters including DUIs and other traffic arrests.

“You lose your car and you don’t get compensated,” Henderson said. “When that happens, you’re just out of luck.”