Driving While Intoxicated Laws

The common term for driving while intoxicated is simply drunk driving. However, there has been a movement to get away from this term, at least when it comes to legal and official usages, because it is not technically correct. For one thing, you do not have to feel drunk to be arrested for a DWI -— if your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) goes up over 0.08, even if you cannot feel that you have been drinking in any way, you could still be arrested.

Likewise, you don't even have to be actively driving to be charged. If you pull off of the road, but you are still behind the wheel and you still have the keys in the ignition, you could be charged.

DWI, DUI, and OUI

One of the confusions with a DWI is how it differs from a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) or an OUI (Operating Under the Influence). Though the terms are different, to a large degree, these mean the same exact thing. They all refer to driving after you have been drinking or using drugs.

A State-Wide Law

You may know that the laws differ from state to state when it comes to the sentences that are given out for a DWI, but you should know that all states have the same upper limit for BAC. That limit is simply 0.08, as noted above, for those who are 21 or older. If you are below the legal drinking age, you could also get a DWI if you have a BAC that is not all the way up to 0.08, seeing as how the presence of any alcohol indicates that the law was broken. For example, underage drivers can get DWI charges with a BAC of 0.02.

A Tiered System for Sentences

For the most part, states use a tiered system for DWI sentences, which means that the penalties for a first, second and third offense —- or any offenses after that —- are all different. For each consecutive offense, you could face harsher penalties.

Generally speaking, the fine for a first offense is going to range from $150 and $5,000. You may also have to attend a substance abuse program or even serve a short amount of time behind bars. However, you may avoid jail time altogether.

If you are convicted again, you may get a jail sentence to go along with larger fines and fees. For example, drivers in California who are convicted of a second DUI have to go to jail for at least four days. It's mandatory, so a judge can't even rule against it. The judge also has the power to give out a sentence of as much as a full year.

Things really get to be harsh if you get to a third offense. Depending on the state that you live in, you could be looking at as much as five years in jail, $15,000 in fines, and the permanent loss of your driver's license. In some cases, the authorities may even seize your vehicle, which can then be sold off.

All States Have Their Own Laws

The most important thing to remember is that the states are in control of these laws, so the laws differ widely from one to the next. Some states will make you use an ignition interlock system, for example, and some will not. Some states have DUI charges that classify as felonies, while others only give out misdemeanors in every instance. Be sure that you know the specific laws and regulations in your state.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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