If you’re convicted of a drunk driving offense, you’ll want to know how long that conviction will stay on your driving record. Each state has its own laws that determine this window of time, but the nationwide average is about 10 years.
A few states even keep drunk driving convictions on your record for a lifetime. This window, called a look-back period, look-back law or washout period, affects the severity of your drunk driving penalties, which increase for second and subsequent drunk driving offenses.
The length of time an offense remains on your record helps establish what previous offenses can be considered if you receive another drunk driving conviction. Receiving a second or higher offense within your state’s look-back period can indicate to a court that you are high-risk driver and more likely to have an alcohol abuse problem.
Having multiple DUI convictions within your state’s look-back period is serious and can include serving jail time, longer license suspension, extended ignition interlock device use, alcohol treatment classes or programs, felony convictions and even a permanent loss of your driver’s license.
Laws Across the United States
Both look-back periods and DUI convictions by state are varied. Georgia, for example, has a 10-year look-back period. If you receive a drunk driving conviction within 10 years or less of your first conviction, it will be treated as your second offense. If you receive a conviction after those 10 years, the first conviction will be “washed off” your record and not count against you, so the current conviction would be treated as a first offense.
Other states have more complex laws. Michigan has a seven-year look-back period for a second offense, and a lifetime look-back period for third and subsequent offenses.
Alabama and North Dakota also have look-back periods that increase each time a person is convicted of another drunk driving offense. Florida’s DUI look-back period also increases with each offense: five years for a first offense, 10 years for a third offense and lifetime license suspension for fourth and subsequent offenses.
Nebraska has a 15-year look-back law, while Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Texas and Vermont all have lifetime look-back periods. Find your state’s look-back period.
Why Do Look-Back Periods Matter?
Look-back laws were established to help identify habitual offenders and deter them from driving drunk. And they also provide statewide rules for how long an offense stays on your record. First-time offenders receive less severe penalties than someone who has two or more drunk driving convictions.
Let’s say you were convicted of drunk driving 20 years ago: should that conviction hold the same weight if you were convicted of driving drunk only two years ago? These periods allow courts, judges and Departments of Motor Vehicles to identify who is more likely to be a risk on our roads — and penalize them appropriately for their actions.
Drunk driving is the leading cause of death on U.S. roads. In an effort to reduce recidivism rates, many states have increased penalties for drunk driving convictions, including all-offender laws for ignition interlock devices. States with lifetime look-back periods have some of the strictest DUI laws in the nation.
States with look-back periods of five years are considered substantially less aggressive in eliminating habitual drunk drivers. These states have a lower percentage of "repeat" drunk driving offenders, as their previous convictions are more likely to be washed off their recordsdue to the shorter look-back period. More lenient look-back laws keep the states who have them from readily identifying habitual offenders who are a risk to public safety.