Despite commercials and billboard advertisements warning about driving while intoxicated, approximately 28 people in the United States die from drunk-driving crashes every day. Despite what you might think, this number — while still too high — represents a downward trend in the country.
Unfortunately, driving under the influence (DUI) continues to be an issue in Massachusetts. While the country’s number of drunk driving fatalities reached the lowest percentage of DUIs since 1982, more than 1,300 people in Massachusetts were killed in car crashes involving a drunk driver from 2003 to 2012.
In 2018 the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System reported that about 1.7 percent of adults in the United States drove after drinking too much. Data from the same report showed that about 2.5 percent of adults in Massachusetts drove under the influence of alcohol. Even as researchers continue to study DUIs in the state, here’s what you need to know about driving under the influence in Massachusetts, how common it is, and what we’re doing to help.
Drunk Driving: Understanding Blood Alcohol Concentration
Drunk driving happens when the amount of alcohol in an individual’s bloodstream impairs their ability to appropriately operate a vehicle. Even though most people understand the concept of drunk driving, many individuals struggle to fully understand how blood alcohol concentration (BAC) relates to drunk driving.
BAC is the percent of alcohol in the bloodstream. Most people mistake the “C” in BAC for content, but the same alcohol content (or amount) will have less of an effect on a 220-pound person compared to a 125-pound person. This is why BAC isn’t about alcohol content, but alcohol concentration. A BAC of .10 means that .1% of your bloodstream is composed of alcohol. That may not seem like a lot of alcohol, but any BAC over 0.001 can affect the way the brain and body function.
Massachusetts law states that individuals are driving under the influence of alcohol when their BAC is 0.08 or greater. According to a scale measuring blood alcohol concentration:
- .020 to .029 can cause light impairment and a “loose” floaty feeling
- .030 to .059 can diminish concentration and trigger a relaxed but distracted state of being
- .060 to .080 can impair judgment, reasoning, visual processing, muscle coordination, and driving skills. This BAC can also decrease the ability to adjust to glares of light. At this point, Massachusetts law states that individuals can not legally and appropriately operate a vehicle.
At point .100 to .199, individuals’ reflexes are compromised, their response time slows, and their ability to speak logically wanes. At BAC .200 to .299, individuals can experience memory loss. They may also lose some of their motor skills and blackout. When individuals’ BAC reaches .300, many people lose consciousness. Around .400 to .450 BAC, individuals can stop breathing and die.
In Massachusetts, individuals driving with a .08 BAC can be penalized with an “operating under the influence” or OUI charge. This is the equivalent of a DUI or DWI in other states Although many people associate DUI with drinking, the charge can refer to people who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Prevalence of DUI in Massachusetts
Even though driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is one of the riskiest choices an individual can make, 2.5 percent of people in Massachusetts continue to operate vehicles under the influence of mind-altering substances. Considering the state’s 7.1 million population, that’s an estimated 17,750,000 people per year.
In addition to that, the National Drunk Driving Statistics Map shows that in 2018:
- 120 people in the state died as a result of drunk or impaired driving
- 33.3 percent of the state’s total fatalities were related to alcohol-impaired driving
- 29 percent of the state’s alcohol-impaired driving fatalities involved young adults under the age of 21
- 8,280 people in Massachusetts were arrested for driving under the influence
- 72.9 percent of Massachusetts drivers involved in an alcohol-impaired fatality had a BAC level of .15 or greater
In 2019, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 33 percent of people in Massachusetts involved in car crashes had a BAC of 0.08 or greater. In the same year, a total of 447 drivers in the state were involved in a fatal car crash associated with operating a vehicle under the influence. More than 200 of those drivers were killed.
Understanding DUI Laws in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, individuals can get an OUI charge if they are operating a vehicle while intoxicated with any substance that can impair their ability to drive. The substances can include:
- Prescription drugs such as opioids, antidepressants, or benzodiazepines
- Illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamine, and other hallucinogens
Even though there’s no drug test equivalent to the breathalyzer, driving under the influence of drugs can carry many of the same penalties as drunk driving.
Massachusetts law defines OUI as operating a motor vehicle any place the public can rightfully access while under the influence of alcohol or drugs at a level that has impaired an individual’s ability to drive. But individuals should also know that they can be charged with an OUI while sitting in a driver’s seat with the vehicle parked but not running. When law enforcement officers suspect impairment, they can assess an individual’s impairment and BAC via:
- Field sobriety tests such as the “walk and turn,” “one-leg stand,” or “horizontal gaze nystagmus”
- Blood test
Individuals should also know that determining whether or not they’re impaired is generally up to the discretion of the arresting officer.
Types of DUI Penalties in Massachusetts
Not every DUI charge issued in the state of Massachusetts is equal. Generally, the type of OUI charges issued in the state fall into one of 3 categories:
Misdemeanor OUI Charges
In Massachusetts, first and second offense OUI charges are considered misdemeanors. Typically, these charges don’t warrant a prison sentence, but they can result in probation, an alcohol education program, or a period of incarceration in a House of Correction. The state also considers driving a vehicle with a suspended license due to an OUI as a misdemeanor, but this charge can include a minimum of 60 days in jail.
Penalties for misdemeanor OUI charges can include license suspension for up to 2 years, fines that can range from $500 to $10,000, and jail time depending on the circumstances.
Felony OUI Charges
A third OUI charge in Massachusetts is considered a felony. In other words, individuals that have 2 prior offenses on their record will face felony OUI charges if arrested again. Penalties for felony charges can include license suspension ranging from 180 days to a lifetime, mandatory minimum periods of incarceration, and fines ranging from $1,000 to $50,000.
First OUI offenses can become felony charges when:
- Individuals have a repeat offense of child endangerment
- The OUI resulted in serious bodily injury
- A death is involved
Juvenile OUI Charges
Drivers under the age of 21 can face escalated penalties in Massachusetts. In fact, the state’s zero-tolerance policy allows drivers who are not of legal drinking age to incur penalties starting at 0.02 BAC. Additionally, drivers under the age of 18 can face longer license suspensions in accordance with the Junior Operator Law (JOL).
Helping Combat DUIs, OUIs, and Alcoholism in Massachusetts
Here at Meta Addiction Treatment, we’re proud to call Massachusetts home. We’re also proud to help combat the state’s rising number of DUIs. Our outpatient treatment programs can help individuals overcome alcohol and drug challenges without having to leave home for treatment. Our professional intervention services can help encourage individuals to seek out the help and treatment they need. Don’t let DUI and OUI charges overtake your or a family member’s life. Recovery is possible. Let us help you begin, continue, or restart treatment. Contact us today to learn more.