The term impaired driving is an umbrella term that refers to operating a motor vehicle while experiencing some loss or diminishment of proper physical function. Some examples of impairment include loss of motor skills, speech, vision, or other sensory skills.

Impairment may be due to a low level of drugs or alcohol in a person’s system, or due to an illness, disability or some other similar reason. Depending on your State’s laws impaired driving offenses are often called driving under the influence (“DUI”), or driving while intoxicated (“DWI”), or other similar terms that describe impaired driving.

How is it Different than Driving Under the Influence?

However, impaired driving and driving under the influence do not always refer to the same thing. In fact, in some states, driving under the influence is a crime that is often reserved for persons under the age of twenty-one years (21) of age that have any concentration of alcohol in their system.

Thus, a minor under 21 years old could be charged with a DUI even though they are below the legal limit of blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”). Thus, a DUI charge generally denotes a lesser degree of impairment than a DWI or other impaired driving violation.

Additionally further impaired driving violations could include driving without corrective lenses or driving while sleep deprived. Such impairments generally only lead to minor fines. However, in some states, such as New Jersey, driving while drowsy (“DWD”) is a criminal offense that is punished similarly to a DWI charge.

What are the Common Signs of Impairment While Driving?

It is important to note that police cannot pull you over without probable cause. Thus, in order for you to be pulled over, the police officer making the stop must have a reasonable suspicion that you have either violated a traffic law, are driving under the influence, or have committed a criminal offense. Common signs of impaired driving that would rise to a level of giving a police officer probable cause that you are driving under the influence include:

  • Speeding or driving too fast;
  • Driving too slow;
  • Swerving;
  • Failing to maintain your lane, or constantly changing lanes;
  • Failure to properly use traffic signals;
  • Failing to drive straight;
  • Frequent braking;
  • Operating a motor vehicle without functioning lights;
  • Failure to turn on your lights at night;
  • The scent of drugs or alcohol;
  • Striking objects with your vehicle; or
  • Any other minor traffic infraction, such as an expired registration or operating a motor vehicle while on the phone.

As can be seen, there are numerous reasons that may allow a police officer to temporarily stop your vehicle under suspicion that you are driving impaired. Thus, the most important way of preventing yourself from being charged with an impaired driving violation is to not operate a motor vehicle while you are impaired.

Can I Be Convicted of Impaired Driving While Not Legally Drunk?

In short, yes. As mentioned above, although in most jurisdictions the legal limit for a blood alcohol concentration is above 0.08, an individual under the legal limit may still receive a traffic citation or be charged with a criminal offense.

For example, in many jurisdictions a minor operating a motor vehicle with any blood alcohol concentration, can be charged with a criminal offense. Additionally, if the police officer believes that you are impaired in any other way, such as by the ingestion of drugs, failure to wear corrective lenses, or sleep deprivation, you may be charged with those impairments.

What are the Penalties Associated with Impaired Driving?

As can be seen, there are numerous different criminal charges that fall under the umbrella of impaired driving. Therefore, impaired driving penalties often depend on both the nature of the offense you are charged with and your criminal history.

For example, first time penalties for minor impaired driving offenses typically only result in suspension of your driving privileges, minor fines, and points on your driver’s license. Your automobile insurance rate may go up as a result of these charges, but you may take driving education courses to counteract the increase in your insurance rates.

Second and subsequent penalties for minor impaired driving violations are often more severe, as you have a history of repeated violation. Penalties for any additional impaired driving violations often include substantial fines, and the possibility of probation or prison time.

As noted above, penalties for DWIs are more severe than other minor impaired driving violations.

For example, penalties for a first time offender may include fines of up to $2,500, up to one year in prison, requirement of an ignition interlock device, and/or revocation of your driver’s license.

Subsequent charges may become classified as aggravated DWIs and result in even harsher criminal penalties, such as significant prison time. Additionally, should you harm another human while driving impaired, then the penalties for doing so are even more severe. If you drove while drunk then you can face charges for vehicular manslaughter.

Should I Consult With an Attorney If I Am Facing Impaired Driving Charges?

As can be seen, there are numerous different criminal charges and penalties for impaired driving. Further, the charges and elements of the crime vary by state and jurisdiction. Therefore, if you have been accused of operating a motor vehicle while impaired, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced and well qualified DUI/DWI attorney in your area.

An experienced DUI/DWI attorney will be able to inform you of the severity of the charges you are facing, as well as any available legal defenses you may have to the charges. Additionally, an attorney can represent you in court, as needed.