Alcohol safety

Increased public attention to driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) has resulted in tougher penalties for drivers in Florida. The following information is provided to help explain the law in Florida and provided information for the public to make informed decisions about drinking and driving.

ALCOHOL LEVELS AND PRESUMED IMPAIRMENT
Blood alcohol level is a measure of the amount of alcohol a person has in the bloodstream. Breath alcohol level is a measure of the amount of alcohol vapor a person has in their breath. Blood and breath alcohol levels have become a standard indicator of intoxication. It is difficult to prove that a person’s driving ability is impaired without the definition by law of a blood or breath alcohol level. Therefore, the interpretation of evidence in cases of driving under the influence of alcohol is supported by the legal definition of a 0.08 or more blood or breath alcohol level.

Blood alcohol is measured in terms of weight of alcohol compared to volume of blood. A 0.08 blood alcohol level indicates 0.08 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. A 0.08 breath alcohol level indicates 0.08 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath. According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, extensive research shows that alcohol impairs driving-related tasks such as divided attention, comprehension, reaction time, and coordination. As alcohol levels increase, performance decreases; there is no minimum threshold for alcohol effects. Some performance degradation is observed at any measurable alcohol level.

Under Florida law, a blood or breath alcohol level of 0.08 is prima facie evidence that a person is under the influence of alcohol to the extent that normal faculties are impaired and, therefore, is guilty of DUI, regardless of the person’s actual degree of intoxication or impairment (s.316.1934 (3), F.S.). It is not necessary for the prosecutor in a DUI case to prove that the person’s driving ability was impaired by alcohol at the time of the arrest; it is necessary only to prove that the person’s blood or breath alcohol level was above the 0.08 threshold.

The 0.08 level only establishes a legal presumption of impairment. Some individuals would be considered impaired at a lower blood or breath alcohol level, while other individuals may have a greater tolerance and not be as impaired at a higher level. Conversely, the 0.08 level does not establish a legal limit for drinking. A person may be convicted of DUI with an alcohol level lower than 0.08 if a prosecutor can show that the person’s driving was impaired by alcohol, though proving impairment is more difficult than proving blood or breath alcohol level. The alcohol level threshold simply establishes a level above which most individuals’ driving would be considered to be impaired. The assumption is that any individual driving with that much alcohol in their blood or breath presents a danger to others.

IMPLIED CONSENT
By accepting and using a Florida driver license, a person agrees to submit to a chemical or physical test of their blood or breath alcohol level and a urine test for drugs and other controlled substances when arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (s.316.1932, F.S.). A person may refuse to take the tests; however, this will result in a one-year suspension of the person’s driver license for the first refusal or an 18-month suspension for subsequent refusals. These suspensions are in addition to any revocations that may be imposed by the court upon a DUI conviction. An individual who is unconscious or otherwise incapable of refusal is deemed not to have withdrawn consent. Non-residents and others who do not have to obtain Florida driver licenses are considered to have expressed consent to the tests by the act of driving in Florida.

Tests must be conducted according to procedures established by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Blood samples for testing may be drawn only by licensed medical practitioners or laboratory technicians. Individuals who are tested by the police may, at their own expense, have an independent test conducted.

Drivers in crashes which result in death or serious bodily injury to a human being may be compelled by the investigating officer to submit to tests for alcoholic content and the presence of chemical or controlled substances. In this case, the law enforcement officer is permitted to use reasonable force, if necessary, to obtain a sample for testing (s.316.1933, F.S.).

0.02% THRESHOLD FOR PERSONS UNDER 21
Due to the increasing numbers of alcohol-related crashes involving drivers under the age of 21, additional restrictions have been imposed (Chapter 96-272, Laws of Florida). Effective January 1, 1997, anyone under 21 years of age with an alcohol level of 0.02 or above found driving or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle will lose their driving privilege for six months, or one year for a second or subsequent alcohol-related suspension. Refusing to be tested results in a license suspension of one year, or 18 months for a second or subsequent refusal.

A violation of this section is not a criminal offense, but will result in an administrative suspension administered by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. When a driver under 21 years of age receives an administrative roadside suspension for an alcohol level of 0.02 or above, the driver’s license is confiscated and a ten-day temporary driving permit is issued along with the notice of suspension. The driver then has ten days to request either a formal or an informal review by the Division of Driver Licenses.

DUI PENALTIES

The penalty for a first DUI conviction is:

* A fine from $500 to $1,000,

* Imprisonment for up to six months,

* Monthly reporting probation for a period not exceeding one year and with a requirement for a minimum of 50 hours of community service work (the total period of imprisonment plus probation may not exceed one year).

* Completion of an approved substance abuse course specified by the court. A referral to substance abuse treatment may be required in some cases.

* Revocation of the driver license for at least 180 days and up to one year.

* If the offender has an alcohol level of 0.20 or greater, the possible fine is doubled to between $1,000 and $2,000 and the imprisonment increased to a period of up to nine months.Subsequent DUI convictions result in increased fines and prison terms. In addition, for a second conviction within five years, the court is required to sentence the violator to at least ten days in jail and revoke the offender’s driver license for at least five years. For a third conviction within ten years of the first, the required sentence is at least ten years. A person who is convicted of a fourth and subsequent DUI may be charged with a third degree felony.

Multiple DUI felony convictions may subject the individual to the provisions of the habitual offender law (s.775.084, F.S.), resulting in a longer prison term.

If a DUI offender’s behavior results in injury to, or damage to the property of, another person, the offender may be found guilty of a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000. A DUI offender who causes serious bodily injury to another person may be found guilty of a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. If the DUI offender’s actions cause the death of a human being, the offender may be found guilty of DUI manslaughter, a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

In the course of making an arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol, a law enforcement officer is authorized to suspend immediately the driver license of any individual who either refuses to submit to a breath, urine, or blood test or is tested and has a blood or breath alcohol level of 0.08 or greater. If the result of the test is not immediately available, the Division of Driver Licenses will suspend the license upon receiving notice that an arrest for DUI was made. When a driver receives a roadside suspension for DUI, the driver’s license is confiscated and a 30-day temporary driving permit is issued along with the notice of suspension for six months for the first offense and one year for subsequent offenses. The driver then has ten days to request either a formal or informal review by the Division of Driver Licenses.

ALCOHOL POSSESSION AND OPEN CONTAINER LAWS
Florida Law prohibits the possession of open containers of alcoholic beverages by the driver and passengers of most motor vehicles.

An open container is defined as “any container that is immediately capable of being consumed from, or the seal of which has been broken”. Open containers must be carried in a locked glove compartment, locked trunk, or other locked non-passenger area of the vehicle. The driver of a vehicle with an open container anywhere else in the vehicle, yet not in the physical control of the container, is guilty of a non-criminal moving violation and subject to a fine. A passenger found in possession of an open container of alcohol is guilty of a non-moving violation, punishable by a fine.

According to Gainesville City Ordinance, it is unlawful for any person to consume or be in possession of any alcoholic beverage in an open container on any public street, sidewalk, or publicly owned parking facility in the city. The same holds for private property when the owner has not given consent to consume alcohol or have an open container on the property. It is also unlawful to consume or be in possession of any alcoholic beverage in the stands, stadium, or grounds of Florida Field on the University of Florida campus.

Florida Law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from possessing an alcoholic beverage. Violation of this section is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or sixty days in jail.

For further information on this or others safety topics please contact the University of Florida Police Department’s Community Services Division at 392-1409.