Massachusetts’ driving while impaired laws differ in many ways from those in other states. The first major difference to note is the alternate label that the state employs for infractions. Rather than using the DUI label as is common in most states, Massachusetts enforces an Operating Under the Influence law (OWI). There are several other states that have adopted this label as well. The other major difference in Massachusetts laws are the possible reductions in sentencing when the proper actions are taken by a person found guilty.
The majority of Massachusetts OWI laws are fairly common when it comes to Blood-Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limits and Implied Consent policies. The “per se” BAC limit for drivers under the influence of alcohol is .08 or higher. Drivers in this state can also be taken into custody if they are suspected of being under the influence of drugs other than alcohol. Massachusetts also employs a Zero Tolerance policy when it comes to BAC limits for drivers who are to young to drink alcohol. Anyone under the age of 21 cannot operate a vehicle with a BAC that is at or above .02.
Like many other states, Massachusetts also carries an enhanced penalty for what is termed as an Aggravated OWI. Individuals caught driving with a blood alcohol level that is at or above .2 can face increased legal penalties. The state also has Implied Consent laws, which require that drivers submit to a breathalyzer test should the arresting officer have reason to suspect that they are under the influence of any substance. Should the individual be unable to submit to this test for any reason, he or she can be evaluated via a blood test in order to determine the level of possible intoxication.
Penalties For OWI Offenses
The penalties for OWIs in Massachusetts vary according to the number of offenses that are on an individual’s record. A first offense requires a minimum license suspension of one year. However, unlike most states, this suspension time can be reduced when an individual attends alcohol education courses. The second offense comes with a suspension period of two years while the third comes with a dramatic increase to 8 years. The second and third OWI offenses in this state require that an individual attend mandatory alcohol assessment and education sessions. Additionally, the vehicle of any driver arrested for an OWI can be confiscated by the authorities. It is also possible for the judge to require an ignition interlock device for any individuals found guilty. Upon the second and third offense, this measure will be mandatory.
OWI does not qualify as a felony offense in this state unless the following situations have occurred: The defendant must be facing his or her third offense in the state or the situation must be one that has involved the serious injury or death of another individual. Offenses at this level can come with a prison sentence that is at least two and a half years.
What Is The Legal Alcohol Limit In Massachusetts?
As in other locations throughout the U.S., the legal alcohol limit is .08 percent in Massachusetts. Commercial drivers face a stricter limit of .04 percent, and drivers under 21 cannot legally drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .02 percent or higher.
Police determine a person’s BAC by taking a breath or blood test. As a result of Melanie’s Law, passed in 2005, refusing to take this test can result in an automatic license suspension of 180 days – or longer if a person has an operating under the influence (OUI) conviction.
Penalties for driving with a BAC above the legal limit may include:
- For a first OUI offense, a person may face two and a half years in jail, a fine of $5,000 and a license suspension of one year.
- A second conviction can yield a jail term of two and a half years (with 30 days being mandatory), a fine of $10,000, a license suspension of two years and required compliance with ignition interlock law.
- A third OUI may produce a five-year prison sentence (150 days mandatory), a fine of $15,000, a license suspension of eight years and vehicle seizure.
Additional offenses can yield even greater penalties. For example, a fifth conviction could result in a fine of $50,000 and lifetime loss of driving privileges.
Ignition Interlock Requirements In Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, drivers convicted of repeat operating under the influence offenses are subject to ignition interlock law. Repeat offenders must install a device that requires a passing breath test to start a vehicle.
Ignition interlock devices (IIDs):
- Must be installed and maintained at a vehicle owner’s expense
- Are required for a period determined by the severity of an offense
- Allow for reinstatement of driving privileges with a Z restriction
While having an IID installed in a vehicle for years can be costly, most people with repeat OUI offenses do choose to take on this expense in order to be able to drive.