In 1996, Mississippi recorded 811 traffic fatalities, of which 338, or 41.6 percent, were alcohol-related. Nationally, alcohol contributed to 17,126 traffic deaths.
To help curb the number of accidents and death, lawmakers have toughened drunk driving laws in the U.S. in recent years. Mississippi strengthened its law this year to include zero tolerance for minors.
Mississippi's Implied Consent, or DUI, Law declares it illegal for any person to operate a motor vehicle who is under the influence of liquor or other substance that impairs his or her driving ability. The law defines intoxication as a blood alcohol concentration level of .10 percent for adults, .04 percent for commercial drivers, and .02 percent for minors (under 21 years of age).
A chemical test of breath, blood or urine determines proof of intoxication. A driver may refuse to submit to such a test but may face stiffer penalties if found guilty. Cooperation may lead to a lighter sentence.
Adult first offenders face a fine of $250 to $1,000, imprisonment for up to 48 hours, or both. The court may replace jail with attendance at a victim impact panel. Attendance and completion of the Mississippi Alcohol Safety Education Program (MASEP) is mandatory.
First offenders also face suspension of their drivers' licenses for up to one year, or 90 days upon completion of MASEP. If the driver did not refuse the chemical test, the suspension may be reduced to 30 days. A commercial driver faces a suspended license for one to three years.
Penalties increase in severity with repeat offenses, if occurring within a five year period. Third and subsequent offenses are felonies and have a maximum sentence of five years in the state penitentiary, $5,000 fine, five-year license suspension, and seizure of the vehicle. Commercial drivers can have their commercial licenses revoked permanently.
Minors found guilty of DUI with a blood alcohol level between .02 and .08 percent also face fines, imprisonment and license suspension. If a minor's level registers more than .08 percent, the adult conviction penalties apply.
In all cases, if the convicted drunk driver causes the death or serious injury of another person, the offense is a felony with criminal penalties of up to 25 years in prison.
Drinking and driving are a dangerous combination. The law punishes those who mix the two and put themselves and other Mississippians at needless risk of death or injury.