Impaired driving encompasses the act of operating a motor vehicle while suffering from any reduction or deterioration in physical function or loss of motor skills, speech, vision, or other sensory abilities.
Impairment can arise from a low level of drugs or alcohol in one’s system, an illness, a disability, or other similar causes.
Depending on the specific laws of a given state, impaired driving violations are commonly referred to as driving under the influence (“DUI”), driving while intoxicated (“DWI”), or other comparable terms that pertain to impaired driving.
How is it Different from Driving Under the Influence?
Impaired driving and driving under the influence may not always have the same meaning.
In certain states, driving under the influence is considered a criminal offense that typically applies to individuals under 21 years of age who have any amount of alcohol in their system. As a result, a person under 21 could face a DUI charge even if their blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) is below the legal limit. A DUI offense generally indicates a lower level of impairment than a DWI or other forms of impaired driving.
Impaired driving violations can also involve driving without proper corrective lenses or driving while excessively fatigued. These types of impairments often result in minor fines. However, in some states like New Jersey, driving while drowsy (“DWD”) is considered a criminal offense with penalties similar to those for a DWI charge.
What are the Common Signs of Impairment While Driving?
The police cannot pull you over without probable cause. To initiate a traffic stop, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that you have committed a traffic violation, are driving under the influence, or have engaged in criminal activity.
Several signs of impaired driving could give the police officer probable cause to believe that you are driving under the influence, such as:
- Driving too fast or too slow
- Failing to stay in your lane or changing lanes often
- Not using traffic signals properly
- Driving erratically
- Braking frequently
- Operating a vehicle without lights
- Failing to turn on your lights at night
- The smell of alcohol or drugs
- Hitting objects with your vehicle
- Committing any other minor traffic violation like driving with an expired registration or using your phone while driving.
Can I Be Convicted of Impaired Driving While Not Legally Drunk?
Yes, receiving a traffic citation or criminal charge for impaired driving is possible even if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is below the legal limit of 0.08 in most jurisdictions.
For instance, in many jurisdictions, a minor operating a motor vehicle with alcohol in their system may be charged with a criminal offense.
If a police officer suspects you are impaired due to drug use, failure to wear corrective lenses, sleep deprivation, or any other reason, you could also face charges for those impairments.
What are the Penalties Associated with Impaired Driving?
Several criminal charges fall under impaired driving, and the penalties depend on the offense’s nature and your criminal history.
For minor impaired driving offenses, first-time penalties usually involve suspension of driving privileges, minor fines, and points on the driver’s license. However, insurance rates may increase due to these charges, although taking driving education courses may counteract the increase.
On the other hand, second and subsequent penalties for minor impaired driving violations are often more severe due to a history of repeated violations. Penalties may include substantial fines, probation, or even prison time.
DWI charges carry harsher penalties than other minor impaired driving offenses. For a first-time DWI offender, penalties may include fines of up to $2,500, up to one year in prison, an ignition interlock device requirement, or revocation of the driver’s license.
Subsequent charges may be classified as aggravated DWIs resulting in even more severe criminal penalties, such as significant prison time.
Vehicular manslaughter charges typically apply when a person operates a vehicle recklessly or negligently and causes another person’s death. If the impairment is caused by alcohol, the driver may be charged with DUI manslaughter, which is a form of vehicular manslaughter specifically tied to impaired driving.
The penalties for vehicular manslaughter are often severe, including substantial fines, extended prison sentences, and the loss of driving privileges. Sometimes, the driver may also face civil lawsuits from the victim’s family members, seeking compensation for losing their loved one.
Can I Have an Open Container in My Vehicle?
In general, it is illegal to have an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a motor vehicle. The passenger area is typically defined as the vehicle area accessible to the driver and passengers, such as the front seat and back seat.
Many states have laws prohibiting open containers of alcohol in the passenger area of a motor vehicle, regardless of whether the driver or passengers are consuming the alcohol. Even if the driver is not consuming alcohol, having an open container in the vehicle’s passenger area can still result in a citation or fine.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, some states allow passengers in vehicles such as limousines or party buses to consume alcohol in the passenger area, provided the vehicle has a partition separating the driver from the passengers.
Check the laws in your state to determine the specific rules regarding open containers in vehicles. If you are unsure of the laws in your state, it is always best to err on the side of caution and avoid having open containers of alcohol in the passenger area of your vehicle.
Can I Get a Ticket for Sleeping in My Car While Intoxicated?
Yes, receiving a ticket or even facing more serious legal consequences for sleeping in your car while intoxicated is possible. In general, being in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs can result in a DUI or similar charge.
In some states, being in physical control of a vehicle while impaired is defined as having the ability to operate the vehicle, even if the vehicle is not currently in motion. If you are found to be sleeping in your car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you may be charged with DUI, even if you did not intend to drive the vehicle.
Even if you are not charged with a DUI, sleeping in your car while intoxicated can still result in other legal consequences; for example, in some states, you may be charged with public intoxication or disorderly conduct, even if you are in your car and not in public.
Should I Consult With an Attorney If I Am Facing Impaired Driving Charges?
If you have been accused of operating a motor vehicle while impaired, seeking legal advice from an experienced DUI/DWI attorney in your area is important.
A well-qualified DUI/DWI attorney can inform you about the severity of the charges you are facing and any available legal defenses you may have. They can represent you in court as needed and work to achieve the best possible outcome for your case under the applicable laws.
Therefore, consulting with an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the legal system and protect your rights is best.