599.jpgBy Jerry Hirsch

Beware of the $16,000 cocktail.

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day partying, the Automobile Club of Southern California has calculated that a first-offense misdemeanor DUI conviction can now cost up to $15,649 in California.

That’s up 29% from 2011.

The penalties are even higher for teenagers. The expense of an under-age-21 first-offense misdemeanor DUI is up to $22,492.

“It only takes one or two drinks to slow physical and mental skills that affect vision, steering, braking judgment and reaction time,” said the Auto Club’s Senior Researcher Steven A. Bloch. “Drivers should be aware that the California Highway Patrol and law enforcement agencies regularly use sobriety checkpoints to look for drinking drivers during heavy drinking periods, such as St. Patrick’s Day.”

A recent AAA report found that 10% of motorists admitted to driving when they thought their blood alcohol content was above the legal limit in the past year.

The Auto Club developed its cost estimate by totaling up mandated state and local fines, penalties, restitution, legal fees and increased insurance costs. The calculations do not include thousands of dollars of other potential expenses drivers might face if they lose work time for a criminal trial or to go to jail, need to pay bail or incur injury or vehicle damage from a crash they caused.

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