DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence. Every state has some version of a DUI statute that prohibits operating a motor vehicle while under the influence or intoxicated by a substance that is known to impair a person’s motor skills.

Some states have different classifications for different types of DUIs such as alcohol, illegal drugs or over the counter medicine and some states include other vehicles such as a bicycle, moped or golf cart.

Other names for DUI include:

What Substances are Included in DUI Laws?

Any substance that impairs your ability to safely operate a vehicle could be included in your state’s laws including legal substances.

Alcohol is the most common, but other substances that can be included in a charge for DUI are:

  • Illicit or illegal contraband drugs such as heroin, cocaine, PCP, etc.;
  • Marijuana;
  • Prescription medication such as painkillers, sleeping meds, muscle relaxers, etc.; and
  • Over the counter medicines, particularly overdoses, including antihistamines such as benadryl.
So if you were prescribed any medications that came with a warning like, “do not operate heavy machinery” then it is a medication that can potentially result in a DUI.

How Do Police Test for Intoxication in a DUI Stop?

Law enforcement begins their field testing on the side of the road where they pulled you over. The following is a list of common police testing for sobriety after a traffic stop:

  1. Field Sobriety Tests: The police may ask you to step out of the vehicle and perform a series of actions designed to test your balance and agility. These allow the officer to make observations and draw conclusions about your possible impairment from a substance. These include:
    1. One-leg stand;
    2. Walk and turn;
    3. Finger to nose; and
    4. Observing any odor of alcohol or other substances such as marijuana, PCP, etc.
  2. Chemical Breath Test: a breathalyzer that measures the concentration of alcohol.
  3. Blood or Urine Test: A medical professional will be required to draw the specimen and a lab will test whether any substances are present and the level of concentration.

What is Implied Consent as it Pertains to My Driver’s License?

Every state has a version of implied consent and sometimes it is written on the back of your driver’s license. As a condition of receiving your driver’s license, you are consenting to future chemical testing for alcohol or drugs upon arrest or investigation for a DUI.

Chemical testing usually includes a breathalyzer or blood and urine testing at a hospital. You may still refuse to take the tests but you may be subject to additional penalties and fines as a result of your refusal depending on your state’s laws.

Remember, driver’s licenses are regulated by the government. If you do not comply with their requirements for having one and operating a vehicle safely, then they have every right to revoke it.

What is “Per Se” Intoxication?

Many states have per se laws that provide if a person has a .08 blood alcohol concentration, then they are presumed intoxicated even if there is no other evidence of impairment. Some states like Colorado have enacted per se laws regarding marijuana where 5 nanograms of active THC in the blood can be per se under the influence while driving.

What are “Zero Tolerance” Laws?

Many states have zero tolerance for under age drivers with any alcohol in their system. This means that any amount of alcohol, even just a small glass, can cause a minor to be subjected to a DUI conviction. Luckily, many states promote diversion programs for young adults who qualify that can provide probation and treatment rather than a conviction.

What is the Ignition Interlock Device?

If you have been convicted of a DUI, you may be required to have an ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle. This device prevents your vehicle from being started unless the driver blows into the attached breathalyzer with clean breathe.

If the breathe has any alcohol concentration, it will prohibit the vehicle from operating. Ignition interlock may be required in some states when the DUI conviction involved a particularly high concentration of alcohol or by statute in order to avoid a licensing suspension. However, in most cases, the defendant is responsible for paying for the device’s installation and the program administration fees which can be hundreds of dollars or more.

What Happens to My License After a DUI Stop?

Once you’ve been arrested for a DUI, most states suspend your license immediately pending the court date. If you are subsequently convicted of a DUI, you may have a longer suspension or even a revocation of your license, especially if it is a second or more offense. There may be other restrictions on your license as well including:

  • Restricted to driving for work or school purposes only;
  • Complying with an ignition interlock device;
  • Not being able to imbibe any alcohol or substance while driving even if it’s within the legal limit;
  • Not being permitted to transport children or other passengers;
  • Prohibition of driving a vehicle for pay (like a taxi); and/or
  • Revocation of a secondary license such as a CDL or motorcycle.

What are the Possible Penalties for a DUI Conviction?

Each state has different penalties for DUI convictions and can vary in subsequent convictions. Some common penalties that many states implore include:

  • Suspension or revocation of your driver’s license;
  • Fines and court costs;
  • Incarceration, particularly for subsequent offenders;
  • Court ordered alcohol or drug rehabilitation or education; and/or
  • Ignition interlock installation.

While DUI’s are not always charged as a felony, it is possible to receive a felony DUI charge. Each state has requirements as to what qualifies for a felony DUI, but typically repeat offenders or those who injured and/or killed another person will face an automatic felony DUI.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My DUI Case?

If you have been charged with a DUI, you should contact a DUI attorney immediately. They can evaluate your case, request the discovery of all evidence including the reliability of the tests used against you during your stop, and explain your rights. They can also represent you in court and prepare you for how your local court handles DUI cases.