Drunk driving refers to a situation where someone is driving while legally intoxicated, which will be based on if there are alcohol or controlled substances in your system. Whether you are considered to be legally intoxicated will depend on your state’s laws. Most states set the threshold as driving while having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or 0.10%.

A law enforcement officer can determine your BAC level through a breathalyzer test, blood test and/or urine test. Law enforcement officers often will have the suspected drunk driver complete a series of field sobriety tests as well to determine if they are intoxicated.

It is important to remember that drunk driving offenses are not the same as simple traffic citations, like running a stop sign or failing to yield to oncoming traffic. If you are charged and convicted of drunk driving, then this will be considered a misdemeanor or felony offense resulting in penalties like payment of high fines, mandatory rehabilitation classes or meetings, driving restrictions, license suspension, and/or prison time.

Your first drunk driving offense will usually be a misdemeanor. However, if you have several drunk driving charges on your record or someone is hurt as a result of your drunk driving you will most likely face felony charges with more severe penalties. It is important to understand your state’s specific drunk driving laws and the consequences that can follow.

What Crime Will I Be Charged With For Driving While Drunk?

The state you live in will dictate the specific crime or crimes you can be charged with for drunk driving. Receiving a DUI (driving under the influence) is the most common charge. However, you could receive a lesser or more severe charge depending on the circumstances or your arrest.

Here are a few examples of how state law differs for drunk driving offenses:

California

  • DUI: The law details this as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher;
  • Reckless Driving: This is a reduced charge which refers to driving a vehicle with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of another person or their property; and
  • Wet Reckless Driving: This is also a reduced charge which refers to any type of reckless driving that involves alcohol.

Florida

  • DUI: Florida defines the DUI crime a little differently, categorizing this crime as:
    • When someone drives under the influence of alcoholic beverages, controlled substances, or other chemical and they are affected to the extent that their normal faculties are impaired; or
    • When someone drives with a BAC of 0.08% or higher. This gives law enforcement officers more leeway to issue DUIs than some other states.
  • Driving with an Unlawful Blood Alcohol Level (DUBAL): This is already detailed in the state’s DUI law, but can also be a separate crime. A Florida resident can receive a DUBAL for driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher.

New York

  • Driving While Intoxicated (DWI): Some states, including New York and Texas, issue a DWI instead of a DUI. However, it is basically the same thing. In New York, this refers to when someone drives under the impairment of alcohol or another substance, or when someone drives with a BAC of 0.08% or higher.
  • Driving With Ability Impaired (DWAI): A New York resident can also be charged with a DWAI for driving with a BAC greater than 0.05% but less than 0.07%, allowing lesser charges for someone driving under the legal limit for a DWI.

These are just a few examples you can face when driving while intoxicated. If you are charged with a drunk driving related offense, you should become familiar with your state’s specific laws and requirements. Other charges you may face are Operating Under the Influence (OUI) or Operating While Intoxicated (OWI).

There are also some states with zero tolerance drunk driving laws, which means that if a person under 21 years old is pulled over and has any alcohol in their system they can be arrested for drunk driving. The low BAC (usually up to 0.02 depending on the state) will be enough to justify the charge.

Also keep in mind that many states also have laws addressing death that results from drunk driving. You could be charged with other crimes like a felony hit-and-run or vehicular homicide.

What Penalties Can I Receive For a Drunk Driving Conviction?

As noted, severe consequences can follow is you are convicted of a drunk driving offense. If it is your first drunk driving conviction and you have a clean record, then the court can charge you with a misdemeanor offense. The court may also order you to pay a high fine, complete some drug related courses, and be put on probation for a period of time.

You also may be required to submit to drug or alcohol tests, which could include installing a breathalyzer device in your car that only allows the car to start if you pass the breathalyzer test. This may only be required for habitual offenders or those arrested after driving with a very high BAC (generally over 0.15-0.20), but again this will depend on your state and the sentencing judge.

For repeat offenders or if serious bodily injury or death results from your drunk driving, you could face more serious penalties like prison time or loss of the privilege to operate a motorized vehicle. Another consequence of drunk driving may be increased car insurance rates.

Keep in mind that penalties can vary from state to state and from case to case. There are always situations that can make the DUI penalties more severe, like if you were driving drunk with a child in the car or in a school zone with school in session.

Should I Contact an Attorney After Receiving a Drunk Driving Charge?

If you are arrested for drunk driving, you should consult a local DUI or DWI attorney. An attorney can try to get you the best deal and expedite the process. An attorney can also be helpful with your defense if you are convicted of a more serious related drunk driving crime.

You do not want to rely on anecdotal stories where other people faced a DUI conviction and received a light punishment. Instead, talk to your attorney and make sure you go over your situation carefully where they can help you decide the best course of action for you.