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What Counts as Drunk Driving and Other DUI Laws You Should Know

In 2016, more than 1 million drivers in America were arrested for driving while intoxicated. How intoxicated were they and what happened next?

Driving under the influence is never a good idea. It’s always better to head out with a designated sober driver or take advantage of options like drive share apps or public transportation.

However, it’s clear that many Americans still find themselves in trouble for driving under the influence. What exactly are the DUI laws and what should you expect if you’re pulled over after drinking?

Read on to learn everything you need to know about DUI laws, what you can expect if you get a DUI, and what to do next.

What Counts as “Under the Influence?”

While DUI laws tend to vary from state to state, two things remain the same in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Some states may use the term “DWI” (driving while intoxicated) or “OUI” (operating under the influence) rather than DUI.

The first is that a BAC (blood alcohol content) of 0.08 or more means that you are driving under the influence. A police officer can still apply penalties to drivers who have a lower BAC, although that typically entails that you have committed another offense.

The second is that all 50 states and the District of Columbia have “per se” DUI laws. What that means is that if a driver is found to have a BAC of 0.08 or more, they are automatically guilty of DUI based on that evidence, alone.

(Note that there’s no way to consistently compare your BAC to the number or type of drinks you’ve had. BAC is affected by things like height and weight, making it at least slightly different for everyone.)

What Does Zero Tolerance Mean?

You may hear the term “zero tolerance” in relation to DUI laws. What does it mean and who does it apply to?

Zero tolerance applies to drivers who are under the age of 21, and therefore not legally old enough to drink. If an underage driver is found with a BAC of any amount, they will receive a DUI.

When Does Enhanced Penalty Come Into Play?

Most states will apply increased (read: harsher) penalties to drivers who are exceptionally intoxicated. You may receive larger fines, a longer jail sentence, or a longer license suspension. Typically, an enhanced penalty comes into play if your BAC is higher than 0.15 or 0.20, depending on where you live.

Will You Lose Your License After Getting a DUI?

Every state has its own provisions for determining when you will lose your license and for how long. License suspension is, in most states, an administrative action performed by the Department of Motor Vehicles. It is therefore not considered a criminal penalty, although you’ll usually learn more about your license suspension after going to court.

There are some circumstances where your license can be suspended on-site, meaning that you may lose your license before the court ruling. In many states, this can occur if you, for example, refuse a breath test.

What varies most from state to state is how long you’ll lose your driving privileges. For example, in Alabama, license suspension will last a minimum of 90 days. In Colorado, the minimum suspension is 9 months.

If it is not your first DUI, you are likely to face a longer license suspension period. After a certain number of DUIs, some states may revoke your license entirely.

Will You Spend Time in Jail After Getting a DUI?

Most states factor in jail time when penalizing drivers who have received a DUI. For years, the majority of states only required jail time for repeat offenders. However, things are starting to change as states crack down harder on drunk driving.

More and more states are requiring jail time after the first DUI offense, although it may be no more than 24 hours. Jail time is often the penalty for drunk drivers who caused an accident, especially accidents that led to injuries or death. When this occurs, drivers are looking at more than just a DUI charge.

What Is Implied Consent?

Implied consent is a term that every driver should be aware of, although many are not. Upon receiving your license, you are giving implied consent to submit to field sobriety tests and breath tests if asked by a police officer. What happens if you refuse either or both when asked?

If you refuse, a police officer cannot make you take either test. However, there are penalties that come with this refusal. You may automatically lose your license or face larger fines or more jail time. This refusal can come up in court as a sign that you are unwilling to cooperate with the law, leading to harsher penalties.

When Should You Get an Attorney for a DUI?

DUI attorneys specialize in DUI laws. When should you hire one?

One obvious circumstance that would require a DUI attorney is when you know that you were innocent but the court does not agree. However, it often makes sense to hire a DUI attorney, especially if you are facing severe penalties. A DUI attorney can help you navigate the court process and potentially help you fight for less severe penalties.

Abide By the DUI Laws

As you can see, DUI laws vary from state to state. The most important thing to take away is that the risks that come with driving under the influence aren’t worth it–and neither are the penalties. Make sure that you ride with a sober driver or find another way home after drinking other than driving yourself.

Looking for more legal guidance free of charge? Take a look at the rest of our content and learn everything you need to know about the law.

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