United States: What To Know About New Pennsylvania DUI Laws

Last Updated: June 21 2019
Article by Tyler Therriault

Driving under the influence (DUI) can have devastating consequences including injury and loss of life. In an effort to deter drivers from drinking and driving, Pennsylvania has updated its DUI laws to increase penalties on repeat offenders. If you or a family member are the victim of a drunk driving accident, educate yourself as to how you can seek compensation for your situation. The following takes a closer look at Pennsylvania's laws, sentencing for DUI offenders, and how accident victims can legally proceed.

What Are the Pennsylvania DUI Laws?

Each state has its own laws regarding DUIs, how they are defined, and how they are prosecuted. In 2003, the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles lowered the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit from 0.10% to 0.08% for people over the age of 21, and 0.02% if 21 or younger. At these levels, drivers are a hazard to themselves and others with impaired motor skills, reaction time, and judgment. A BAC chart is a helpful tool for understanding the approximate consumption of alcohol it takes for a person to reach 0.08%, although it's recommended not to drive at all after drinking to avoid accidents or risk being charged with a DUI. Impairment begins after only one standard drink, namely:

  • a 1.5oz shot of 80+ proof liquor
  • a 12oz can of beer
  • a 5oz serving of wine

Why Did Pennsylvania Change its DUI Laws?

The Commonwealth has updated its DUI laws to have a higher penalty for repeat offenders. This change came in large part from a push from the Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving (PAPAID) organization, along with other parents who have lost children due to the careless actions of drunk drivers. Two mothers in particular were significant players in getting these penalties heightened. Elaine Miller and Missy Sweitzer of York County both lost their sons to drunk drivers. After their tragedies, they decided to push for updated legislation to hopefully deter people from drinking and driving and punish those who commit the offense to a stronger degree. PAPAID reports that in Pennsylvania there are one million drivers with existing DUI convictions who, now that this legislation has been enacted, will face stronger penalties for subsequent offenses.

How Have Pennsylvania DUI Laws Changed?

Pennsylvania DUI laws have changed in regard to the sentencing of repeat offenders. Previously, those convicted of a DUI faced misdemeanor charges with no higher charges for subsequent offenses. The law now states that a third DUI conviction leads to a third-degree felony charge. Regarding sentences, the factors to consider are the number of previous offenses and the driver's blood alcohol content. If an offender commits a third DUI within a 10-year timespan and has a BAC over 0.16%, they will face a prison sentence of up to seven years. A fourth DUI within a 10-year timespan – regardless of BAC – will also call for a prison sentence of up to seven years. In addition to DUI offenses, homicides by vehicle while driving under the influence will also carry stronger penalties. If the perpetrator of homicide by vehicle while under the influence has a previous DUI conviction, they will face a five-year prison sentence. If they've had two or more DUIs, the sentence will be seven years.

What Should Victims of Drunk Drivers Do After an Accident?

Victims of DUI-related car accidents should always contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after the accident. The following steps are very important both for personal well-being and in order to maximize potential compensation.

Get Evaluated by a Doctor

After an accident, your number one priority is your health and safety. Some injuries are less obvious than others, so it's crucial that you call 911 in order to receive an evaluation from a medical professional. Not only will this help determine any and all injuries you have sustained, but you will also have a record to use as evidence against the drunk driver. You should also keep a record of your medical bills, as these will be used when determining compensation.

Collect Evidence

Gathering evidence from the scene is an important step in building your case. Call the police after the accident in order to obtain a detailed police report. As part of the report, the police will perform an evaluation of the driver's condition and BAC level. Take photos of the scene from as many angles as possible, as well as of any injuries you sustained. If there are witnesses to the crash, get their written testimony and contact information as they will help corroborate your narrative. If you have a dashboard camera, be sure to save the footage of the accident if you have it. Have your personal injury lawyer look into the other driver's background, as their history is also considered in your civil case.

Record Losses

Calculating your compensation is not cut and dry. Keep a detailed record of the days you missed work due to your injuries, the medical bills you have incurred, and any expenses related to the accident. Pain and suffering is also considered, so speak with your lawyer about the mental and physical changes, such as PTSD, anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain, that have come about due to the accident. If you lost a loved one to a drunk driving accident, make a record of losses incurred as a result of their passing.

Trusted Personal Injury Lawyers for DUI Victims

Donaghue & Labrum is a firm with extensive experience assisting victims of reckless and negligent DUI drivers, and we have a strong track record of success. Our team are experts in Pennsylvania DUI laws and we will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a drunk driver, don't hesitate—contact us today to set up your free consultation.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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