Like many countries across the world, the U.S. has laws that make driving under the influence of alcohol illegal in all 50 states. Even at that, the laws for DWI vary from state to state. The laws that you are accustomed to in your state for OVI may be entirely different than another state’s DUI laws.
While drunk driving is never a good idea, you might wonder how many drinks you can legally consume before you will find yourself over the legal OUI limit where you live. You can get an idea about how each state’s laws punish OWI by learning more about common DUI laws that have been adopted by states across the country.
The Basics of DUI Laws
Each year in the U.S., more than 29 million people are stopped by law enforcement and arrested for drunk driving. Another 300,000 people die as the result of drunk driving every year. Despite the prevalence of state and federal OVI laws for this offense, drunk driving remains one of the primary threats to public safety, costing taxpayers billions of dollars on a yearly basis.
Because scientific evidence proves that consuming alcohol increases the likelihood of motor vehicle accidents, many states have adopted laws that set a minimum for blood alcohol content. Drivers who go over this legal limit can and often are arrested and charged with OWI. The penalties for OVI vary from state to state. However, many state laws mandate a minimum penalty of civil fines or community service. The OVI laws may also mandate jail or prison time for people who are severely over the OUI limit.
The minimum blood alcohol content limit that most state DUI laws establish is 0.08 percent. If you have a BAC of 0.08, you are considered to be legally intoxicated in most U.S. states. Under those OVI laws, you can be arrested and charged with a DWI, which itself can bring a host of legal penalties depending on the laws in the city, county, or state in which the offense is committed.
The 0.08 minimum BAC does not apply to underage drivers. Most state OVI laws set the minimum BAC for people under the age of 21 at 0.01 or 0.02. Underage drivers found to be at or above these minimum blood alcohol content levels can be charged with a DWI and face similar or identical punishment under state OWI laws as adults who engage in drunk driving.
Federal laws set the OVI limit at 0.04. Commercial drivers found to be over the 0.04 minimum federal legal OWI limit can be arrested for and charged with OWI. They could have their CDL licenses suspended or revoked. They also could lose their commercial driving laws even if they have only committed one OUI offense.
Incidentally, the first OWI laws date back to 1906 way before motor vehicles became prevalent on American roadways. The fine for an OUI back then was $500, which was considered to be a steep civil penalty.
The individual OVI states’ laws have evolved significantly since 1906, of course. Today, people who are charged and found guilty of drunk driving can face punishments that include civil fines and court costs, community service, mandatory reeducation, attending mandatory rehabilitation or recovery programs, loss of driving privileges or a suspended driver’s license, having to submit to regular breathalyzer tests, or being sentenced to city or county jail or state or federal prison.
Further, the severity of OVI punishments that you can face if you are found guilty of drunk driving will depend on a number of different factors including:
- whether or not you harmed or killed another person during your OVI
- whether or not you are a juvenile
- how much over the legal BAC limit you are at the time of your arrest
- whether or not you are a repeat DWI offender
- whether or not you damaged property during your OUI
The number of factors that play into your DUI will determine largely what kind of legal consequences you face and whether or not you are charged with a felony or misdemeanor DWI.
With this in mind, you might wonder how law enforcement determines what drivers to pull over and detain for DWI. You can avoid drunk driving and the legal penalties that come with it by learning what behaviors alert police officers to drivers who may be engaging in drunk driving on public roadways.
Drunk Driving Behaviors and DUI Reporting
Law enforcement officers are trained to be on the lookout for certain motorist behaviors that are common with people who are drunk driving. If an officer sees you engaging these behaviors, by state OVI laws he or she must pull you over and determine whether or not to give you a breathalyzer or field sobriety test.
Drunk driving behaviors that could result in an OUI arrest and charge include:
- making overly wide turns
- driving over the center lane or lane marker
- weaving in and out of traffic
- drifting over the shoulder repeatedly
- almost hitting a person or an object
- hitting a person or an object
- driving the wrong way on a one-way road
- swerving erratically
- driving more than 10 miles per hour under the speed limit
- stopping suddenly without due cause
- following another vehicle too closely
- braking without due cause
- signaling that does not match your driving actions
- illegal turning
- speeding up or slowing down suddenly
- driving with your headlights off at nighttime
If an officer sees you engaging in any of these driving behaviors, he or she has just cause under most state laws to detain you and in some instances compel you to submit to an OVI breathalyzer test.
Once you are pulled over for suspected OUI, you may be asked to submit to a breathalyzer test, which will tell the officer if you are over the legal OWI limit and if so, by how much. Likewise, you might be asked by the officer to undergo an OUI field sobriety test, which can include walking backwards, walking in a straight line, saying the ABCs backward, or following the officer’s finger to determine your reflex and fine motor skills.
Field sobriety and breathalyzer tests are also routine for suspected DWI motorists who are stopped at sobriety checkpoints. If you are found to be over the legal OUI limit, you could be taken to the police station where you may be required to undergo a blood or urine test.
Some state laws also permit physicians to report drunk drivers to police officers. Doctors who find patients to be drunk at the time of their examination are required under these states’ laws to report the patients to law enforcement. The patients are then prohibited from driving home from the hospital or doctor’s office and many times charged with DUI.
Depending on the OUI state laws where you live or where yo commit the offense, you may find yourself sentenced to any number of punishments. Common legal penalties for OWI driving include:
- jail or prison time
- community service
- civil fines and court costs
- mandatory rehabilitation
- OVI license tags put on your vehicle
- mandatory or ignition breathalyzer tests
- impounding and forfeiture of your vehicle
- suspension or revocation of your driver’s license
Along with dealing with the legal ramifications of a DUI, you also have to cope with potentially lifelong consequences that a DWI charge and conviction can have on your everyday existence. Depending again on the OUI laws where you live, the effects that your DUI conviction can have on your life can last for years and make living a normal everyday routine difficult or impossible.
The Ramifications of a DUI Conviction
Each state has its own OUI laws regarding how long a DUI stays on a person’s record. Much of it depends on the severity of your DWI charge and conviction. Misdemeanors generally fall off a persons’ OUI record faster than a felony DWI charge. Likewise, OVI charges and convictions incurred by juveniles can typically be expunged or sealed after the offender turns 21. Felony OUI offenses are more difficult to expunge and can stay on your OWI record indefinitely.
Because of the impact that a DUI can have on your life, you should try to avoid getting one in the first place. If you already have an OUI charge and conviction on your driving and arrest record, however, you may want to consider having it expunged if possible. An OVI on your record can have make it difficult or impossible to:
- apply for and get a new job
- get bank or credit union financing
- apply for and be accepted into a college or university
- apply for and receive state and federal financial aid
- adopt or become a foster parent
- volunteer in the community
Further, a DUI conviction can make you feel embarrassed about your earlier mistakes and take away any pride or integrity you might have about your everyday life.
Many states have OWI laws that permit some drunk driving offenders to have their OWI records expunged. The process for having a DWI expunged can be lengthy and complicated. You may find it best to hire an experienced DUI attorney to represent you during this OWI process.
Once your DUI is expunged from your record, you may find it easier to carry out a normal, productive everyday life again. You can also regain a sense of pride and integrity about yourself, elements that might have been taken from you after you were arrested for drunk driving and convicted of a DUI. A good DUI lawyer can assist you in the OWI expungement process and know if you are eligible for an OWI expunction under the current OWI state laws.
Expunging a DUI From Your Record
The process for expunging a DUI from your criminal and driving records varies according to the state you live in or in which you were convicted of the DWI. Some state DUI laws allow it to be a relatively straightforward process while laws in other states require DWI expungement petitioners to file quite a bit of paperwork and appear at least once before a DUI judge in a courtroom.
In fact, as a lay person you may find understanding and navigating the state’s drunk driving laws to be difficult or impossible depending on how well-versed you are in these particular laws. The DWI laws may also change frequently, making it challenging to keep up with what is expected of you as a DUI expungement petitioner and what is no longer required of you under the current state laws.
Rather than try to figure out the state DWI laws on your own, you could make the entire DUI expungement process easier by hiring an experienced DUI attorney who knows what the state’s DWI laws are and whether or not you are eligible for a DWI expungement. Your DUI attorney can file the necessary paperwork on time, make sure the documents are free from errors, and appear in the DWI expungement hearing on your behalf. You avoid having to read complicated laws and figuring out what is expected of you as a lay person who may be appearing before a DWI judge for the first time in years.
It is important that you be honest with the judge when you appear before the DWI judge. The judge may ask you if you have avoided further DUI arrests and convictions. You also may be given the chance to show that you have matured and become a rehabilitated and productive citizen in society since your prior arrest and conviction.
As long as you meet the eligibility requirements for getting an expungement, your request may be granted to you. Once the conviction is expunged, it will no longer be visible to entities like landlords, potential employers, creditors, schools, and certain government agencies. Your DWI arrest and conviction will always be visible, however, to law enforcement agencies, the criminal court system, and immigration and deportation officials.
Avoiding OWI Offenses
Avoiding an OVI charge is not difficult if you use your common sense and make responsible choices when consuming alcohol. The most obvious way to avoid an OUI charge is to simply not drink alcohol at home or when you go out to a restaurant or other establishment. If you do not drink alcohol, you will not reach the BAC limit set by your state laws.
If you do want to drink, you should know your limit and even use a BAC or breathalyzer test that can be attached to your phone or keychain. These devices give accurate BAC readings and let you know when you have reached the legal limit for consuming alcohol and still being able to drive yourself home.
You can also keep your BAC level low by eating food along with your alcoholic beverages or by drinking equal amounts of water to flush the alcohol out of your system. Food and water slow the absorption of alcohol into your system and can keep your BAC levels low enough to avoid being arrested and charged with OWI.
Legal Help for OUI Charges
If you do find yourself pulled over, tested, and arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, it is important that you know what steps to take immediately after your arrest and arraignment. According to all of the drunk driving laws in the U.S., you have the right to retain legal counsel. A skilled DWI lawyer can begin working your case immediately and possibly help you avoid the worst ramifications that can come with this charge and conviction.
Your lawyer can make sure that your field sobriety test was given fairly and accurately and that the police officer had due cause for pulling you over in the first place. Evidence like dash cam footage can exonerate you or at least show that you were not as drunk as originally charged by the police officer.
If you were given a blood or urine test at the police station, your lawyer can review the results and make sure that they are accurate and lawful. He or she may have the samples sent off to a third-party laboratory to verify the BAC levels and to make sure that the charges against you match the results that law enforcement obtained from the samples.
Finally, your lawyer can argue and speak for you in the courtroom to possibly have the charges against you lowered or dismissed. If you want to keep your job, avoid going to jail, and miss out on paying a huge fine, you need a lawyer to represent you. Without legal representation, you could face severe legal penalties that could follow you for the rest of your life.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious mistake that can take a dire toll on your life. However, this mistake does not have to haunt you forever. You may escape the worst ramifications and be able to rebuild your life by hiring a DUI lawyer to take your case. You can also learn what the drunk driving laws are in your state or any states that you plan on visiting soon.