Drunk Driving and Look Back Laws

A ‘look back’ period is a legal expression that refers to the length of time that a previous offense remains on a driver’s record and can be used to add penalties if a new DUI offense is committed. A look-back is commonly used in DUI law to identify repeat DUI offenders and amplify the consequence to hopefully reduce recidivism.

The number of years that can be considered in the look back period differs greatly from state to state. The lowest term is five years with the maximum of a lifetime. The average look back period for a drunk driving offense is ten years. This means that if you commit two DUIs within ten years, your DUI penalty for the second DUI is greatly enhanced. If a third drunk driving arrest is recorded within the look back time, the DUI offense could be upgraded to an aggravated drunk driving misdemeanor or even a felony DUI. Again, this is dependent upon specific state laws and how drunk driving laws are affected by the DUI look back period.

It is important to note that most DWI look back periods begin and conclude on the date the person was arrested for the DUI, not the date that they were convicted. For example, if someone was arrested on Jan. 5, 2001, and then arrested again in March of 2011, the second drunk driving offense would be treated as the first because the ten year look back period would have ended.

Length of DUI Look Back Periods by State

As stated previously, the length of time of the DUI ‘look-back’ varies widely in some states. Here is the breakdown for each state:

*Five years:

Rhode Island, Oregon, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Louisiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Idaho, Hawaii, Delaware, Colorado, Alabama, and Florida (second offense)

*Six years:


*Seven years:

Washington, North Dakota, Arizona and Colorado (third offense)

*Ten years:

Texas, Wyoming, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Virginia, Utah Tennessee, South Dakota, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Nevada, Minnesota, Maryland, Maine, Connecticut, California, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia and Florida (third offense)

*Twelve years:

Nebraska and Iowa

*Fifteen years:

District of Columbia


Vermont, New Mexico, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Kansas

In Michigan, any third DUI committed within your life will result in a felony DUI charge even if it is sixty-years from the date of your first DUI arrest. A second DUI offense in Wyoming and New York could be raised to felony status. Obviously, the laws that govern DUIs vary greatly from state to state so it is very important to contact a qualified DUI attorney to help you sort out the specifics.

Statistics for Drunk Driving

An NHTSA study of twelve states revealed that about a third of all drivers arrested for DUI each year are repeat DUI offenders. The lowest percentage of DUI drivers were found in Iowa at 21%; conversely, the highest rate was found in New Mexico with 47% of all drivers arrested for DUI being repeat offenders. The median number was between 31% and 32% arrests and/or convictions. An older study (1980) conducted in California showed that all of 44% of drivers convicted of a DUI were convicted again within ten years.

As in all legal matters, there needs to be a balance between appropriate punishment and securing the rights of the convicted driver. The goal is to decrease the recidivism rate of DUI offenders while still protecting the rights of the driver so that one mistake does not turn into a permanent black stain on his driving record.

Since statutes define specific DUI look back periods, the state legislature should set-up suitable windows to identify repeat drunk drivers while avoiding needlessly harsh DUI consequences. If you or a family member has been arrested for a DUI, please contact an experienced DUI attorney in your state to help guide you through the DUI laws and statutes specific to your situation.

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Beth L. is a content developer for LeadRival, a cutting edge company that helps connect DUI lawyers with DUI clients. Beth L. writes about a variety of DUI topics to help drivers who have been arrested for DUI, getting them the legal help they need.

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