The real cost of an alcoholic beverage

A night of revelry can leave drinkers with more than just a nasty hangover. Laws against public intoxication and driving under the influence can leave people, and their pocketbooks, hurting for much longer than a hangover ever will.

The fine for being found drunk in public is around $370, according to San Luis Obispo Superior Court’s 2012 Bail Schedule, though the exact number is up to the discretion of a judge. Driving under the influence (DUI) is even more costly, because bail is usually $5,000 for a first offense, according to the 2012 Bail Schedule. This does not include court fees, insurance costs and long-term effects of driving after drinking.

The costs of drinking and driving go far beyond several thousand dollars in fees, though, drug and alcohol specialist for the County of San Luis Obispo Health Agency Jenn Rhoads said.

“It’s not very cut and dry,” Rhoads said. “It all depends on what kind of situation it was.”

In addition to spending at least four hours in jail after an arrest, people arrested for drinking and driving can have their license restricted or lose it entirely.

Anyone under 21 found driving with any alcohol in their system will lose their license for at least one year, Rhoads said. People over the age of 21 can have their license restricted, or lose it for a year, depending on the circumstances of their arrest and their blood alcohol content (BAC).

A blood alcohol content greater than 0.08 is over the legal limit, and usually results in a misdemeanor DUI, while driving with greater than 0.2 is considered a felony, Rhoads said.

If, however, a driver is found to be under the influence in connection to a crash, the DUI is immediately a felony, Rhoads said.

“Of course the penalties are higher and more serious if there was a car crash involved,” Rhoads said.

And anyone convicted of a DUI in San Luis Obispo has to attend alcohol awareness programs at San Luis Obispo’s Drug and Alcohol Services, at an additional cost.

Even driving after one or two drinks can cost, though, Rhoads said, because of a lesser DUI called a “wet reckless.”

The wet reckless describes someone who is pulled over for driving erratically, and is found to have consumed alcohol, but blows a BAC below the 0.08 limit.

“You have to still have a significant amount of alcohol in your system to be behaving in an impaired manner,” Rhoads said.

For wet reckless offenders and minors who blow less than a 0.08, a required two-month alcohol awareness class will cost $311. For larger offenses though, people are sentenced to longer, costlier programs — up to the 18-month, $2,283 Second Chance program for people convicted of more than one DUI in 10 years.

And any DUI will result in higher insurance costs for years to come, Rhoads said.

Even for those who don’t get behind the wheel afterward, drinking can lead to negative consequences with the law.

A drunk in public charge usually costs around $370 for the first offense, and stays on an offender’s record, according to the San Luis Obispo Superior Court’s 2012 schedule.

The arrest is often limited to those who are so intoxicated they are publically disruptive, Captain Chris Staley of the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) said.

“Generally with the drunk in public, people are brought to our attention,” Staley said. “Sometimes it’s their behavior: people are yelling and screaming, stumbling in the streets.”

Police will not arrest any intoxicated person who stumbles out of a bar, because SLOPD only has between seven and eight officers downtown on an average weekend night, Staley said.

However, Staley still recommends that people not drink to the point of being unable to care for themselves, he said.

People going out drinking should also designate one friend to abstain and help keep everyone safe, Staley said.

“If you’re going to go, try to have somebody who’s the sober, responsible person,” Staley said.

Biomedical junior Farid Khoshnevissan said he always designates a sober driver when going downtown, to make sure everyone has a safe way home.

“By the time you’re going downtown getting drinks, the bus system’s no longer working so the only option is to walk there or get a car,” Khoshnevissan said.

A sober friend is the ideal way to avoid any arrests or fines, Khoshnevissan said.