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How Much Does a DUI Cost Over 10 Years?

By: North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney Bill Powers, DWI Lawyer and Co-Author of the North Carolina DWI Quick Reference Guide

Ten Areas of DUI Cost: How a DUI Conviction Could Cost Thousands Over 10 Years

How Much does a DUI cost over 10 years? Car Insurance Rate Increases – How much will a DWI conviction affect auto insurance rates, and for how long will I have to keep paying high insurance? Those are both really great questions. In fact, they’re two of the more common things people ask when they’re first searching for a criminal defense lawyer.

It’s pretty safe to assume that if you’re convicted of driving while impaired, your rates are going to skyrocket. But there is more to it than just that. The type and quality of insurance you’re going to be able to get can be affected. There are a lot of moving parts.

Insurance companies vary in their coverage, for substandard risks, and related DUI insurance costs. Preferred car insurance rates may (by law) be taken away. That means not only can the insurance company refuse to give discounts, they may under the law raise your rates or include a surcharge.

In North Carolina, you’re required to carry insurance on your car. That means the carrier has to offer insurance. It doesn’t necessarily mean they have to offer the best coverage or the best rates. They may place you in a “high risk group,” and charge accordingly.

Don’t kid yourself, if you’re convicted of DWI, you’re going to be considered a “risk” by your insurance company. Some states call this “pooled risk,” “assigned risk,” “high risk” or the “re-insurance facility.”

If carriers are required to provide some level of coverage, that level of coverage may be limited to collision only and not comprehensive. That means other people and their vehicles are protected, but your car is not.

That can cause problems if you are in a leased vehicle because that means you will not have insurance to cover the loss associated with the wreck of your leased car, if you are found to be at fault in the collision. And if you owe money on your car, most banks want to make sure the car is covered in the event of the wreck. Technically they still own the vehicle. The best thing to do is to check your lease terms and review the paperwork they gave you when you bought the car.

Even if you didn’t cause the wreck, leasing companies and banks will want to make sure you carry insurance, just in case the other person didn’t have insurance or enough insurance to cover the vehicle.

Each state has its own set of rules when it comes to car insurance, traffic tickets, DWI DUI and convictions. Some have an integrated car insurance/driver’s license system, whereby a traffic conviction can boost auto liability and insurance rates for years following a DUI arrest and conviction. Other states have legislated that higher rates are to be imposed and collected for up to 10 years. Still other states have legislatively created a high-risk driver-mandated larger liability policy requiring at least $100,000 in coverage for those with a prior DUI conviction.

What is the Impact of a DWI on My Driver’s License – “Can I be convicted of a driving under the influence charge, and still keep my driving privileges?” is often the number 1 question asked of a DUI attorney by clients facing a DWI-DUI offense in NC. While car services like Uber and Lyft are now more affordable than taxis, who can afford to be driven EVERYWHERE they go? Plus, a substantial number of jobs can be lost when an employer discovers a DUI-DWI conviction.

Can I Rent a Car After a DWI in NC – For people whose lives depend upon renting a car from a national agency, a drunk driving conviction can immediately end being able to contract for most rental car companies. It really doesn’t matter which state you are in. Car rental companies want to see that plastic drivers license in your hand. They too think you’re too high a risk if you’ve been convicted of DWI. The don’t want to take a chance that you might drink and drive and crash one of their cars. That may not be fair, especially considering most people convicted of impaired driving have had very little prior involvement in the legal system.

DUI charges send a message to the big players in car rentals (e.g., Hertz, Avis, National, Budget) to cut off any risky drivers. Most are merely complying with their blanket insurance policy conditions, which call for no high-risk employees driving their company’s vehicles. It’s not really the rental companies as much as it is the decision of the insurance carriers. If they won’t insure you or the vehicle, the rental company isn’t going to rent it to you.

During the period that a driver has only a provisional or limited permit, or can only operate a vehicle with an ignition interlock device, no major companies readily offer any use of their vehicles. A limited driving privilege authorized by the Court does not require people to rent you a car. It is restricted. In fact, in North Carolina, limited privileges after a DWI conviction normally have conditions tied to you driving a car, including when, where, and why you can drive.

After reinstatement of your license occurs, once North Carolina has received proof of an alcohol assessment, community service, payments of fines, costs, court fees, DWI treatment as recommended, and other compliance with the impaired driving sentencing, all license reinstatement fees and your driving privileges may be restored.

But even then there can be additional requirements such as the installation of an ignition interlock device. Few car rental companies will permit a person to immediately rent a “vehicle for hire,”for some period after a conviction, even after a restoration. Enterprise Car Rental is one company that has been more accommodating in some parts of the country.

If your job requires travel and the ability to rent a car, a DWI conviction in North Carolina could be a real problem. You may be required to pay for a cab, user UBER or Lyft wherever you go. That gets real expensive, real quick. And if you travel to more rural areas where those aren’t really options, the problems only multiply. If can prevent you from doing your job. Employers know that.

Eligibility to Continue to Operate a Company Car – Many of the best, high-dollar sales positions have perks such as being provided a company car. To get the best salespeople, they have to offer things like expense accounts, clothing allowances, gas card, and a company car. While sometimes people forget the value in that, thinking it’s “only a company car,” this take-home car benefit alleviates owning a second vehicle for many who have families. The monthly value of this stipend constitutes a substantial monthly savings when all aspects of that “free” vehicle availability being considered.

Ask yourself, “What would it cost me to buy or lease a car? How much would the insurance be? What are the maintenance costs? How much it cost me for gas?” Remember, those are all expenses you would pay after Uncle Sam takes a bite out of your check. Are you going to be able to pay for that after a mortgage, and food bills, and insurance?

Plus, the company that issues the vehicle and covers insuring you writes off those costs. Many companies cannot keep a driver with a driving under the influence of an impaired substance or DWI conviction under their coverage, where possibly having to pay a multi-million-dollar bodily injury civil claim is an unacceptable risk. And again it comes down to insurance. Will the companies insurance carrier allow them to have a company car? It might not be fair, but the question often is, “What happens if they get another DWI and hurt or kill someone? What then?”

Court Fines and Legislatively-Mandated Surcharges Can Be Staggering – Many states stack on “surcharges” and fees to DWI convictions, so that being allowed to reinstate and obtain driving privileges is nearly impossible for many drivers. Repeat offenders can be looking at multiple thousands of dollars in fees and fines annually for several years. That’s important to know because if you are licensed in another state, but convicted in North Carolina, the DWI can follow you. North Carolina has fees. If it reports-back a conviction, which isn’t unusual under something called the Interstate Compact, your home state very well may take action on your license and charge their own fees.

Interlock Installation and Maintenance – Over half of all US states now require ignition interlock installation for all offenders, and all but about 5 states mandate interlock installation for repeat offenders. These electronic devices are wired into your vehicle’s ignition switch, and prevent it from being cranked or sound alarms if alcohol is detected. Periodic alerts are sounded, whereby the vehicle must be pulled to the shoulder, and another blow test conducted.

A lot of people call them a “Blow-and-Go” or “car breathalyzer.” It doesn’t matter what you call it, most people find them to be an inconvenience at best. They are expensive. They require maintenance and data downloads, which in North Carolina means a trip up to the Blow-and-Go company and the time off work to do that.

Over a dozen big and small auto interlock companies compete for business throughout the United States**. These ignition interlock device providers make millions of dollars annually. The cost of a DWI Willful Refusal Interlock Limited Driving Privilege or DMV Conditional Restoration or Reinstatement installation and maintenance agreement is part of the monthly expense. You may be required to pay some money up-front, like a downpayment. You are responsible for the interlock device, which means, “If you break it, you buy it.”

**North Carolina requires the mandatory installation of an Ignition Interlock in cases where a person convicted of DWI and had a breath or blood reading of .15 or higher. It also can be required as a condition of restoration by the North Carolina Department of Transportation/Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Sometimes that happens in cases where a person was found to be a willful refusal or has unfortunately had more than one conviction for an implied consent offense in North Carolina.

It is important to also realize that even when a privilege may be authorized under the laws of North Carolina, there is a requirement of a 45-day waiting period before a Judge can issue a limited privilege in instances where there is a reading of .15 or higher. That means you are not allowed to drive for 45 days. There is no hardship or work privilege for 45 days. And that is on top of any suspension already served just for being charged with DWI in North Carolina. So once again, you’re looking at the costly option of a car service, a taxi, UBER, or Lyft, or relying on people to drive you around or public transit.

Finally, there is an overriding principle in North Carolina when it comes to Judges allowing a person to drive with limited driving privileges. It is always in the Court’s discretion whether to grant a limited privilege. That means the Judge can restrict the times, days, and purposes of the privilege. That also means they can require community service to be done or that proof of treatment has been fully completed before issuing a DWI-related limited privilege.

Ignition Interlock Law ExplainedThe ignition interlock device is embarrassing Think about it. Do you really want a business client or co-worker or your boss to jump into the car with you, only to see you blowing into the interlock device? How are you going to explain that one?

Don’t kid yourself. That’s intentional. It’s part of the punishment. While it’s not talked about much, there is a retributive part of DWI sentencing that includes being embarrassed, shaming, and having to explain why you were arrested for drunk driving.

Some states even require you to get a special license plate that indicates a “drunk driver” or “drunk driving conviction.” While it’s said to help law enforcement give special attention to those vehicles, it’s not hard to imagine how embarrassing that must be for some people. That is not currently the status of the law or required in North Carolina. Who knows what the North Carolina General Assembly will do in the future?

The ignition interlock device is not just a safety issue. It is part of the punishment itself, in addition to the fines and costs and treatment and community service fees.

Each and every time you start your car, you have to blow into the interlock. While you’re driving around you are normally required to give more than one sample on a periodic basis. Sometimes that can be several times during your trips.

While you can technically blow into the interlock when you’re driving, it’s recommended you pull over to make sure you do it right. If you mess up the sequence or don’t do it just right, or heaven forbid something shows up, in error, as alcohol, you’re going to have problems.

Your ability to get around, to go to work, is going to be affected if you are required to install an ignition interlock device.

If it is ordered by the Court, you don’t just get to drive around like you used to. That type of limited privilege in North Carolina substantially restricts, even more than a normal DWI limited privilege, when and where you can drive.

If you need work at hours other than Monday through Friday, 6:00AM to 8:00PM, you’re going to have a problem. The DWI laws in North Carolina don’t allow that.

Cost of a DUI LawyerCost of a DUI Lawyer – Some lawyers may charge a couple thousand dollars. The high volume, low-client-contact DWI attorneys may charge less than that. More experienced lawyers may cost less than $5,000 if no trial is needed. Many prominent DWI lawyers are normally in high demand, and may handle a smaller volume of cases. Therefore they tend to charge more.

A lot depends on what you need after a DWI charge. What are your goals? What are your legal options? What will the consequences be to you, your career, and your life if you’re convicted of drunk driving?

Legal fees also relate to the background experience, the training, the awards, certifications, and accolades of any particular lawyer.

Legal fees for a highly-experienced criminal defense attorney can exceed $10,000 to fight a DWI case in North Carolina, from District Court to an appeal to a jury trial in Superior Court. That is true for a South Carolina DUI lawyer was well.

Other Court-Related Costs Besides Fines and Surcharges – Bonding out of jail is one common expense, after being arrested for DUI. If you pay a bonding company, you don’t get that money back. It’s normally a percentage of the total bond. They keep that.

If you or a family member post the entire amount of the bond personally, that money is tied up until the case is completely cleared in the system. The purpose of the bond is to make sure you come to court. It makes sure you have “skin in the game.” If you no-show, the Court system may keep that money. Obviously, there may be other consequences for missing court, like having an Order for Arrest or OFA issued.

And if an Order for Arrest and Order of Forfeiture of your bond is entered, and you’re eventually picked up, you’re going to have to post yet another bond to get out again. In North Carolina, it’s not unusual for judges to “double or triple the bond,” when they issue an OFA. Not only do you lose your original money, you will have to pay again, except this time it will cost even more to get out.

If you used a bonding company and miss court, they are responsible to pay the bond in the event a forfeiture is entered by the Court. They don’t want to lose that money, so that means they will find you and take you back to jail. They may be willing to accept another fee to bond you out again, they may not.

Since many jurisdictions tow vehicles after a DWI arrest, this storage and tow fee is another expense that must be paid when the vehicle is picked up. In North Carolina, the officer may have some discretion in helping you call someone to pick up your car. They may have offered to call a towing company for you. That’s nice, but the tow isn’t free.

If your license has been immediately revoked for even being charged with DWI, you are not allowed to drive a vehicle to pick up the impounded car when you’re finally released from jail. That alone can be an expensive process, in that you may be required to bring someone with you to get your car. That too can cost money, as the jail doesn’t provide a ride home after your release.

You normally would need to go to the location of the towing company and their storage lot, with proper identification, and some other person would drive the car home. Again, if your license has been revoked for DWI in North Carolina, you are not allowed to drive for any reason or purpose. That means you will not be allowed to drive the car home. In fact, towing companies won’t let you drive the car off their lot, knowing your license is revoked. They don’t want to be liable.

Most people now use their driver’s license as ID. Even if they have a passport, they normally don’t carry that around for identification. If your license is revoked or suspended, even temporarily for being charged, you will need to come up with some alternate piece of identification. That can take time. It may also require your car being towed, again at a separate cost, back to your house.

Community service hours are also a staple of DUI court punishment, and these hours can tie up valuable chunks of time, or even consume all of your vacation time and annual leave time. In North Carolina, suspended sentences for the lowest level of DWI or Level 5 DWI, normally start with 24 hours of community service. The higher the level of offense, the more community service may be required. There are instances in North Carolina where the DWI laws require 240 hours of community service.

Treatment in North Carolina for alcohol and drug-related DWI charges can be expensive too. Even the lowest level of recommended care, which is called ADETS in North Carolina (Alcohol Drug Education Traffic School) normally costs a couple hundred dollars and requires a time commitment of 16 hours. With higher levels of treatment recommendations, including 20 treatment programs, intensive outpatient, and inpatient treatments, comes more costs.

Many people just do not have the money to pay for inpatient treatment, which can be 30 days or more, if they do not have medical insurance. And if extended treatment is required, especially in cases for inpatient issues, that means you cannot work during that time. You are literally in a facility, undergoing treatment for substance abuse problems.

Punitive Damages and Restitution of Costs for Bodily Injury or Property Damage – An DWI charge is serious. A DWI charge, coupled with a wreck where someone is hurt or killed, can be life-altering.

Car accidents associated with DUI or DWI can easily top one million dollars due to the nature of the injuries involved and incumbent medical expenses when you combine alcohol and a couple-thousand pound vehicle.

North Carolina requires there be some sort of insurance. It even sets “minimum coverage,” meaning is a minimal amount of money available for a claim.

Unfortunately, to save money, many people only carry the legal minimum of insurance.

If the injuries from a wreck or collision associated with impaired driving exceed the amount of coverage, the person who caused the wreck can be held personally liable for anything that exceeds the level or amount of coverage. Lawyers may refer to that as being an “underage” or “under-insured.”

Lawyers may refer to that as a claim in excess of coverage.

And in an instance where there was no insurance or when someone let their policy lapse, a civil verdict for damages associated with a wreck, at least in North Carolina, allows for the insurance company to seek a suspension of your driver’s license by DMV. That means until some sort of settlement is made with the insurance carrier, DMV won’t give you your license back if they’ve revoked or suspended it.

Lawyers in North Carolina refer to that as an “insurance hold,” an “insurance suspension” or a “lapse in coverage suspension.”

A civil verdict with punitive damages leaves at least the possibility that a claim may not be paid by the insurance company. They may refer to that as a “lapse liability coverage” for an “intervening or criminal act.” That “criminal act” exception is added to the small print in many policies. Plus, US Bankruptcy laws may prohibit, or otherwise effectively prevent, being able to discharge (get rid of) a debt originating from judgment associated with driving while impaired and a wreck.

Finally, many states in addition to North Carolina embargo (prevent) getting your driver’s license back until actual restitution or a monthly payment plan (over several years) is agreed to with the insurance company that paid the claim, as a condition of letting you drive again. That non-dischargeable obligation may not have a 10-year limit, and can follow you for the remainder of your life if you never pay off the claim or debt. If you get your license back and then stop paying, they will again seek to have your license revoked or suspended by DMV.

Diminution of Your Employability Value – Lost job opportunities is the “wildcard” answer to the question: “How much does a DUI cost?” Like a see-saw, after an intoxicated driving conviction and criminal record, the highest income earners will lose on a much bigger scale, generally, than low-salary, low responsibility workers.

What is the Total Cost of a DWI? It all adds up fast!

Paying off fines, probation fees and surcharges for a DUI in court is like finding a BB in a boxcar: insignificantly small. It doesn’t matter if it’s called DWI or DWI or OUI or something else, each state has it’s own name for drunk driving. The real cost of an impaired driving conviction is its impact on your life, both short-term and long-term.

For a minimum wage employee who takes public transit to work, the loss of income may be minor or too low to estimate. But for a high-powered executive with post-graduate education or professional degrees, the DWI cost can affect their million dollar salary and benefits package if the DUI arrest hits the media. Will that CEO ever be tapped again for that level of leadership? Will the Fortune 500 companies keep them on as the face of the organization?

Even if you aren’t knocking down the kind of bucks they’re talking about in Forbes, will YOUR company want you around? – Bill Powers

Doctors, nurse practitioners, accountants, lawyers, airline pilots, train conductors, law enforcement officers, firefighters, CDL, school bus driver, emergency medical technicians, “learned professions” or other people who are in positions of trust and authority, may encounter difficulties obtaining things like malpractice insurance, and even maintaining their professional licenses if there is a pattern of abuse.

In fact, when it comes to some professions, such working as a law enforcement officer, it may prevent a person from ever working again in that field.

So, gauging the impact from even a first offense DWI conviction in North Carolina is case-specific. The ten-year-cost to an hourly wage earner may be hard to measure. But when executive-level pay, benefits, and a possible “golden parachute” package are lost, it can be life-changing.

Driving While Intoxicated Accident Cases Pose the Greatest Risk of High Cost of a DUI

With jury verdicts in DUI death and serious bodily injury cases in many metropolitan areas that are the result of a drunk driving conviction can be in the millions. Occasionally you will read in the newspaper someone hit a “record verdict” that results in seven-figure recoveries.

That is especially in cases where there is a death, long-term disability, or disfiguring injuries, where the seemingly almost limitless financial impact on a drunk driver causing serious bodily injury or wrongful death may have career-ending consequences. It can change your life, your livelihood, where you work, and in some instances, whether you work in your chosen profession.

Therefore, criminal defense lawyer fees, even for an experienced DUI attorney in America, would be relatively insignificant, in such car crash cases.

Avoid DUI Penalties and DWI Consequences by Fighting Your Case

For many NC DWI clients, hiring a lawyer and seeking to win their DUI case is the only option. That doesn’t mean lawyers always win their cases. Lawyers can’t make promises as to the results of a case. That’s because each case is different. What worked in one case, may not apply in another.


DWI charges in North Carolina are a perfect storm. They involve a complex study of the laws, science, and technology involved. Careful consideration must be given to case itself and that’s in addition to planning for the worst and best-case-scenarios – Bill Powers

In North Carolina, there really isn’t a lot of room to negotiate a DUI case. In fact, the North Carolina General Assembly has specifically made it illegal to dismiss a case without written explanations by the prosecutor. They is different in other states, where plea bargaining to some lower-level offense, like reckless, driving may be a common practice.

In North Carolina, you should not assume you can get a plea to reckless, contrary to what you may have read on the internet. Reckless driving is not considered a “lesser included offense” in North Carolina.

The state, through district attorney offices, are but precluded, except for a very limited number circumstances, allowed to even offer reckless driving as an option. Officials in North Carolina take DWI charges seriously. The public policy in North Carolina for DUI cases is trending to more severe consequences, not less. That is true in other parts of the country too.

As such, the BIG PICTURE is ominous for high-salaried corporate or political leaders if they need a license, need to travel, and if they want to maintain their career, their livelihood, and to pursue their life’s passions. It’s understandable they want to know their chances of trying to beat a DWI in North Carolina, and how our Charlotte DWI attorneys would undertake to fight for that goal.

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I am so fortunate to have had Bill Powers on my case. Upon our first meeting, Bill insisted that through the emotions of anger, sadness, confusion, and betrayal that I remain resilient. He was available to answer questions with researched, logical, truthful answers throughout our two year stretch together. I went to any lengths for my case because he won my trust almost immediately... J.R.
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My daughter had a second DUI and when it all seemed hopeless, Bill was able to get the charges dropped. This is a man who is extremely knowledgeable, yet still keeps his integrity which was impressive to me. He handles himself with dignity. If you hire him, you will have the best of the best, along with his expansive intellect and wisdom about the law. Lisa
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Bill Powers’ staff has handled several traffic citations for me over the years, and they exceeded my expectations each and every time. Would highly recommend anyone faced with a traffic citation or court case contact his office and they will handle it from there. M.C.
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Bill and his staff are flat out great. I (unfortunately) was a repeat customer after a string of tickets. These guys not only took care of the initial ticket for me, but went the extra mile and reduced my problems from 3 to just 1 (very minor one) on the same day I called back! I would recommend them to anyone. A.R.