- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003

CHARLOTTESVILLE (AP) — A first offense for driving drunk can cost an offender up to $20,000 in legal and related fees, a criminal-justice expert concluded.

That sum does not include the other costs — financial and otherwise — of a drunken-driving conviction.

“This doesn’t even deal with the issues of losing your job if you are required to have a driver’s license or a commercial driver’s license,” said Thomas von Hemert, criminal-justice planner for the Charlottesville area.

“This is just not a part of our vocabulary or our culture to know about the costs of driving and drinking,” he said.

Mr. von Hemert said the figures he compiled “were a reality check before you get behind the wheel. … It sobered me up.”

“A six-pack of beer might cost you a few dollars, but it might really cost you $5,000 to $20,000,” he said

Most of that money is used to hire a lawyer and pay higher insurance costs.

“We are not even talking about the cost of damage to your car or to other property” or medical costs if someone is injured or killed, Mr. von Hemert said.

Mr. von Hemert gathered a list of typical costs for those caught driving drunk from 18 agencies, groups and companies.

He used a variety of sources, from the Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to the state’s Alcohol Safety Action Program (ASAP), to compile the cost of a conviction for driving under the influence.

His final figures included costs such as posting bail, towing the car, fines and court costs, Department of Motor Vehicle fees for obtaining a restricted license and the cost of attending ASAP classes.

In Virginia, 371 persons died in crashes involving alcohol last year, which was 41 percent of the state’s 914 traffic fatalities.

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