Driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol is against the law in Pennsylvania. The state imposes penalties such as jail time, expensive fines, and driver’s license suspension to discourage people from driving impaired. Yet, according to statistics, around one-third of drivers arrested for DUI are repeat offenders. Habitual drunk drivers may now face even harsher penalties for convictions in Pennsylvania, thanks to a new DUI law in the state. If you, or someone you know has been arrested for a DUI and it’s not the first time, get in touch with your Chester County DUI defense attorney.
Pennsylvania DUI Laws
It is illegal to operate a vehicle in Pennsylvania with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08% or higher, or with any amount of impairing drugs in the driver’s system. The state’s DUI law of 2003 lowered the legal limit from 0.10% to 0.08%. It also shifted the focus from punishment to treatment for first-time offenders. Before the latest law change, the Pennsylvania courts could convict a driver of one of three levels of DUI.
- General impairment. A DUI driver is guilty of general impairment if his or her BAC level registers between 0.08% and 0.099%. With no prior DUI convictions, the penalties for this misdemeanor are a $300 fine, up to six months probation, and mandatory safety school or treatment.
- High BAC. A BAC of 0.10% to 0.159% is a high BAC charge in Pennsylvania. With no prior offenses, the penalty is an ungraded misdemeanor, $500 to $1,500 fine, license suspension for 12 months, and 48 hours to six months in prison, as well as mandatory education courses.
- Highest BAC. A BAC of 0.16% (twice the legal amount) or higher will result in a highest BAC charge. Conviction for a first offense can result in a 12-month license suspension, $1,000 to $5,000 fine, 72 hours to six months in prison, mandatory highway safety school, and possible treatment ordered.
Breaking the state’s DUI laws can lead to a permanent criminal and driving record. If you break the DUI law and cause an accident, you could also face liability for damages and additional criminal charges, such as aggravated manslaughter. Up until December 2018, Pennsylvania was one of only four states that did not treat repeat DUI offenses as felonies. After the passing of a new law, however, drivers with four or more DUI convictions, regardless of DUI level, will face felony charges.
What Does the New Law Say?
Repeat DUI offenses are a significant issue in Pennsylvania and most other states. Habitual drinkers may find themselves behind the wheel more than once with unlawful amounts of alcohol in their systems. According to PA Parents Against Impaired Driving, 140,000 drivers in Pennsylvania have suspended driver’s licenses because of DUI convictions. Up to 75% of these drivers will continue to operate their vehicles illegally. Many of them could become repeat DUI offenders.
From December 23rd, 2018, Pennsylvania lawmakers are no longer tolerating repeat DUI offenders. A new law that went into effect dramatically changed the way the state penalizes multi-offense DUI drivers. For the first time in the state’s history, drivers with four or more DUI convictions will face felony charges, rather than misdemeanors. It will not matter which level the DUIs were, or what substances intoxicated the driver. DUI number four will result in felony DUI charges in Pennsylvania.
Increased penalties for convictions will include greater fines and jail time for people with multiple DUIs. For a second offense, the minimum penalty is now $1,000 and at least 90 days in jail, rather than $500 and 60 days in jail. The penalties for a third or subsequent conviction can include $2,500 in fines and at least six months in jail. The new law also increased the penalties for DUI vehicular homicide. Causing a fatal accident while driving drunk now comes with a minimum of five years in jail, or seven years for two or more prior convictions.