In September 2003, Pennsylvania passed Act 24 into law. This important piece of legislation lowered the legal blood-alcohol content, or BAC limit for drivers from .10 percent to .08 percent. It also created three different tiers of DUI charges dependent on the BAC of the driver. Drivers who are found to have a BAC of .08 to .099 are charged with “general impairment.” If the BAC is .10 percent to .159 percent, the driver is charged with “high BAC DUI,” and if the BAC is greater than 0.16 percent, a driver is charged with a “highest BAC DUI.” These charges differ in the severity of their penalties.
Pennsylvania also has a “drugged driving” charge that applies to motorists if any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance or its metabolite is present in their blood. Drivers can also be charged if they are under the influence of prescription drugs that render them unable to drive safely. Pennsylvania DUI laws do not currently have any legal provisions for medical marijuana use, but drivers must have a minimum level of one nanogram per milliliter of THC or its metabolites in their blood to be charged.
Pennsylvania DUI laws include an implied consent statute, which stipulates that a driver automatically consents to breathalyzer test by acceptance and use of his or her driver’s license in operation of a vehicle. Refusal of a test will result in a suspension of one’s driver’s license for six to 18 months. Refusal can also be used as evidence against you in court.
The court ruling of Commonwealth v. Woodruff in 1995 establishes a unique definition for “operation” of a vehicle as pertains to implied consent in Pennsylvania. A driver may use a vehicle as a shelter without being subject to a test for intoxicants so long as the motor is not running and there is no evidence that the vehicle had been operated recently. For example, if an intoxicated driver came out of a bar and immediately went to sleep in his or her car without putting the keys in the ignition, a police officer would not have probable cause to test for intoxicants as there would be nothing to indicate the vehicle had been operated while the driver was intoxicated.
Pennsylvania is one of only seven states in which multiple DUI charges never escalate to a felony level. They are always misdemeanors punishable by a maximum of five years in jail. DUI only rises to the level of a felony in Pennsylvania if someone else is seriously injured or killed in the course of the DWI. A felony conviction for DUI in Pennsylvania carries a maximum prison term of 10 years and a maximum fine of $25,000.
Recent Changes to Pennsylvania DUI Law
In 2012, Pennsylvania altered grading of penalties for DUI to factor in the age of occupants of the vehicle. If a minor under the age of 18 is present in the vehicle, the DUI becomes a first-degree misdemeanor regardless of the number of previous offenses or any other factors. It also carries a longer potential jail sentence. The minimum fine is increased to $1,000, and there is a mandatory minimum of 100 hours of community service imposed as well.
What Is The Legal Alcohol Limit In Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania has complex driving under the influence (DUI) laws. While some states distinguish only between a standard conviction and an aggravated offense, Pennsylvania features a third tier for DUI incidents.
Driving under the influence designations include:
- General impairment. This descriptor is used for DUI offenses in which an individual registers a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least .08 percent and less than .10 percent.
- High rate BAC. This charge is typically applied when a person’s BAC is at least .10 percent and less than .16 percent.
- Highest rate BAC. The most severe DUI offenses are charged when the involved individual’s BAC is .16 or greater.
It is important to note that while passenger motorists of legal drinking age are subject to DUI penalties starting at a BAC of .08 percent, other classes of drivers face stricter limits. Commercial motorists can be charged with an alcohol-related offense starting with a BAC of .04 percent while those under 21 are subject to Pennsylvania’s zero tolerance law and can be arrested if any trace of alcohol is found.
Ignition Interlock Requirements In Pennsylvania
An ignition interlock device (IID) is a piece of equipment that prevents a vehicle from starting if it detects alcohol. The device is intended to prevent repeat DUI offenses.
Pennsylvania law related to IIDs states:
- A person may have to install a device after a first DUI offense in limited circumstances.
- Reinstating a license after a repeat offense requires an IID-installation period of one year.
- Costs from an ignition interlock device are the responsibility of the convicted individual.
IID-related expenses typically total $1,000 or more. While expensive, the costs are seen by most people as worth it to avoid losing driving privileges.
Pennsylvania DUI Penalties
As with most states, Pennsylvania sets a blood alcohol content (BAC) limit of .08 percent for general motorists, .04 percent for commercial drivers and .02 percent for drivers under the age of 21. Where Pennsylvania differs from most states is it has a tiered system of separate enhanced charges for BAC levels higher than .08 percent. BAC from .08-.99 percent is charged as “general impairment.” BAC from .10-.159 percent is charged as “high BAC.” And a BAC of .16 percent or higher is charged as “highest BAC.” Driving under the influence of a controlled substance is also punished at the “highest BAC” level. It is important to understand these different limits as penalties are multiplied as the BAC goes up.
Penalties for a First DUI Offense
Pennsylvania DUI Penalties for a first offense with no priors is regarded as an ungraded misdemeanor regardless of BAC. Drivers charged with general impairment face up to six months of probation, a $300 fine, a mandatory alcohol highway safety school and potentially a mandatory treatment program if a judge chooses to order it. Drivers charged with high BAC will have their licenses suspended for a year, receive a jail sentence of 48 hours to six months, and will be fined $500-$5,000 dollars. The penalties for highest BAC are the same with an increase in the mandatory minimum jail time to 72 hours and the minimum fine to $1,000.
Penalties for a Second DUI Offense
A second DUI offense continues to be an ungraded misdemeanor unless there is a charge of highest BAC, in which case it becomes a first-degree misdemeanor. A charge of general impairment results in a one-year license suspension, five days to 16 months of jail time, a fine of $300-$2,500, a mandatory ignition interlock for one year and a mandatory alcohol highway safety school. A mandatory treatment program may also be ordered. A high BAC charge ups the minimum jail sentence to 30 days and the fine to $750-$5,000. A highest BAC charge ups the license suspension to 18 months, the jail sentence to 90 days to five years and the fine to $1,500-$10,000.
Penalties for a Third DUI Offense
A third DUI offense is a second-degree misdemeanor at the general impairment level and a first-degree misdemeanor at the higher levels. For a general impairment charge, the penalty is a one-year license suspension, 10 days to two years in prison, a $500-$5,000 fine and use of an ignition interlock device for one year. A high BAC charge ups the license suspension to 18 months, increases the prison term from 90 days to five years and increases the fine to $1,500-$10,000. A highest BAC charge ups the prison term to one to five years and the fine to $2,500-$10,000.
Penalties for a Fourth DUI Offense and Beyond
Pennsylvania is one of the few states where DUI never escalates to a felony charge with repeated offenses. Under some circumstances, a fourth or greater charge may increase the mandatory minimum prison sentence, but otherwise, the penalties continue to be the same as those levied for a third offense.