What Happens to Parents Who Drive Under the Influence with Their Kids in the Car?

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You don’t want to get charged with a DUI. An infraction for Driving Under the Influence can throw your life into disorder, and it can take years to gain back all the rights and privileges you once enjoyed. If you’ve had a few drinks, you can sleep over your friend’s house, you can leave your car in the parking lot overnight, or you can whip out your phone to call a cab. The one place where you don’t want to be is on the road. As we’ll see, though, the costs are much worse if you are caught driving under the influence with children in the car, a charge called an Aggravated DUI.

A Crash-Course in DUI Charges

As any DUI attorney can tell you, driving under the influence carries stiff criminal penalties. In fact, many states have several statutes under which they can convict an intoxicated driver. According to the website of Futeral & Nelson, South Carolina has two separate charges under which a prosecutor might choose for you. First, they can convict you for Driving While Intoxicated, which means that prosecutors have evidence of your driving with observable signs of intoxication such as slurred speech, staggering, swaying, failing field sobriety tests, and failing to keep control of vehicle. Alternatively, they can convict you for Driving with Unlawful Alcohol Concentration (DUAC), which only requires a simple breathalyzer with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or more. The results of these indiscretions? They include court dates, fines, suspended licenses, and marks on your record. If the charge is severe enough, you could end up having to buy special insurance, while facing multi-year suspensions and jail time.

However, as bad as these charges are, the situation is much worse when you have a child in the car. The health-related, legal, and logistical ramifications of being charged with a DUI while you have children in the car are much greater than those of driving solo. If you endanger innocent lives through reckless behavior, your punishment will be greater.

Your Child Could End Up Injured — Or Worse

Driving under the influence threatens your life. It also threatens the life of any child in the car and any child on the road. A child can be severely hurt, or even killed, by a drunken-driving accident. This study by the Center for Disease Control explains that “of the 1,233 traffic deaths among children ages 0 to 14 years in 2016, 214 (17 percent) involved an alcohol-impaired driver.”

A child could suffer a number of injuries, from bruises and cuts to broken bones and concussions. Concussions are some of the more pernicious dangers to children threatened by reckless driving. Concussions are a form of brain damage. Atlantic NeuroSurgical Specialists, a group of neurosurgical specialists in Summit, NJ, call a concussion “a blow to the head or body that causes shaking of the brain, causing damage to the tissue of the brain.” A person with a concussion could exhibit insomnia, emotional outbursts, and memory loss. According to the family doctors at Vanguard Medical group on their page, “Head Injuries in Children: Problems to Watch For,” children, with their developing brains, are especially susceptible to concussions. Furthermore, the injury could be caused by a blow from a blunt object, or the whiplash motion of the head from a sudden stop. This means that you don’t even have to be involved in a car wreck to damage your child’s brain. It takes only a sudden, reckless stop.

You Could Lose Custody of Your Children

From the moment you are pulled over, access to your children could be in jeopardy. If you are charged with a roadside DUI and no other parent or relative is available to take care of the child, the youngster might end up in protective custody such as a shelter that day. If you have a custody agreement with another parent, a fresh DUI charge is often considered pursuant to ongoing custody negotiations. It could very well threaten your case when it comes to reaching a co-parenting situation. Finally, an Aggravated DUI could launch a child endangerment or child-cruelty investigation, and these types of investigations after DUI arrests are becoming more common. Child endangerment comes with its own punishment, so on top of the DUI charges, you will be facing further penalties for the same incident.

A Suspended License Locks You In at Home

For many, the most painful punishment stemming from a DUI offense is the suspension of a driver’s license. A first-time offense often results in a suspension of 90 days or more. The actual length of the suspension depends on the state, but the inconvenience of losing your wheels for three months is the same in every state. A parent spends lots of time shuttling children from soccer practice to school to doctor’s appointments to playdates. You also have the day-to-day logistical requirements of going to and from work, getting groceries, and having time for yourself. If you don’t have a way to transport the kids, the workarounds, whether public transportation or taxis, become both prohibitively time-consuming and expensive. Eventually, it means that something has to give, including piano lessons, trips to the park, or Friday movie night. Is it worth giving up your Friday family nights at the movies for the sake of a risky trip on the road? We don’t think so.

A first-time DUI arrest could result in jail time, but this is rare except for the most severe cases. Much more common are plea agreements that involve community service or alternative work agreements. While undertaking community service or alternative work, you must be prepared to find child care for your young ones. Furthermore, you won’t be available to transport them to usual activities. Once again, the life and lifestyle of your family would be curtailed by the commitments of the law.

Your Ability to Enjoy Any Evening is Curtailed

One of the most effective punishments for those convicted of a DUI is the installation of an ignition interlock device. The ignition interlock device is an in-car breathalyzer that prevents a person’s vehicle from starting if it detects alcohol on their breath. If alcohol is detected, the IID freezes the vehicle’s ignition. If the user fails one blow, the vehicle will be locked for a few minutes, and subsequent failed blows freeze the vehicle for longer and longer periods. Trying to keep up with your family’s hectic schedule can become a frustrating waiting game. Obviously, this means you can’t drink before driving at home, at social functions, or while going out to eat. Forgetting about the glass of wine with dinner 45 minutes before you have to hit the road is all too easy.

Whether you’ve got to hop on the New Jersey Turnpike after picking up some post-soccer-practice brown-bags at a liquor store Lawrenceville, NJ, or take in the sunset along Napa Valley’s scenic roadways after a vineyard tour, those day-to-day tasks are best accomplished with somebody else at the wheel. Going out for a night with the family, and plan on having a few drinks? Leave the keys at home. Take a bus or a ride-sharing service or a trip on an electric scooter (which we know the kids will appreciate). Don’t drive. It’s safer, it’s smarter, and your kids will benefit from your foresight. You don’t want to suffer the consequences.