Finding ways to reduce the number of repeat drunk driving offenders on the road is a priority in every state in the U.S. A first-time DUI offense can be punishable by several methods: through fines and court costs, mandatory ignition interlock installations, entrance into alcohol and substance abuse programs or classes on safe driving. But, many states have different criteria for what defines a repeat drunk driving offender, especially when it comes to the length of time between convictions. This “DUI lookback period” helps a court establish when a person has a habitual problem with driving drunk, or allows a level of leniency for those who have made a one-time choice to drive drunk.
A DUI lookback (or “DUI washout“) period varies, depending on the state’s laws regarding drunk driving. With the establishment of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) Restoration Act (1998-2003), states were required to strengthen drunk driving laws, including those regarding repeat DUI offenders. While many states require only a 5-year DUI lookback period in order to remain in compliance with TEA 21, others can have up to 10 years to look back or even an indefinite period of time. Because of the risk of habitual or repeat drunk drivers, these DUI lookback periods focus on the rehabilitation and sanctioning of individuals who continue to make the dangerous choice to drive while intoxicated.
Through methods like substance abuse education, sobriety monitoring and ignition interlock device installations, there is less chance for a person to continue to put lives at risk by driving drunk. For a one-time DUI offender, the benefit of a DUI lookback period is that once the time has lapsed, the conviction can no longer be used in court, or as a criminal conviction that can affect residential, college and employment applications and the like.