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Each state has its own set of drunk driving laws, also known as DWI or DUI laws. These laws can vary greatly, but in general, they cover the same set of topics. This includes a driver's rights in the event of a traffic stop, as well as sentencing guidelines for those convicted of driving while intoxicated.

Oftentimes, there's confusion around DUI law. For example, many are unsure of whether they must submit to a breathalyzer test or whether they may be held liable for overserving a friend at a house party. If you plan on being a responsible driver, it is important to know the nuances of the law.

What Is the Difference Between DUI and DWI?

Because there are different DUI laws across the country, the crime of drinking and driving may go by a different name depending on what state you are in. In some states, this crime is referred to as driving under the influence (DUI). In other states it is referred to as driving while intoxicated (DWI), operating while intoxicated (OWI), or operating while under the influence (OUI).

Regardless of what you call it, these are all the same crimes.

What Is the Legal Blood-Alcohol Limit?

Across the country, the legal amount of alcohol you are allowed to have in your blood while driving is anything less than .08 percent. This means that if someone were to take a sample of your blood, .08 percent of that sample would be alcohol. If you are caught driving with a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent or more, you will be arrested for drunk driving.

The exception to this law is if the driver is under 21. In many states, the blood-alcohol level allowed for a minor is much lower than .08 percent. In addition, if you are a minor and are caught driving with traces of alcohol in your blood, you may be punished under what are known as zero-tolerance laws.

Zero-tolerance laws are special laws that apply to minors who are caught drinking and driving. They are intended to deter underage drinking. If you are under 21 and are caught drinking and driving, you may automatically have your license suspended for up to six months under these zero-tolerance laws.

Does DUI Law Apply to Boats?

Each state will define DUI law differently. However, many times these laws will include more than just cars, trucks, and motorcycles. In fact, these laws, or similar laws on the books, include other vehicles such as boats, airplanes, all-terrain vehicles, and even mechanized wheelchairs.

Can I Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?

A field sobriety test is a physical or mental test that a police officer uses to gauge whether a driver may be under the influence of alcohol. These tests can consist of a number of challenges, including standing one leg, walking in a straight line, or following an object with your eyes while keeping your head stationary.

Whether you submit to a field sobriety test and whether there are consequences to not submitting varies from state to state. If you have questions about your state's laws, you should consult with a DUI attorney in your area.

Can I Refuse a Breathalyzer Test?

A breathalyzer is a portable device that an officer may use to gauge whether you are over the legal blood-alcohol limit. A driver blows through the breathalyzer, which can detect trace amounts of alcohol in the driver's breath. The mechanism then provides an estimate of the driver's blood-alcohol content.

The laws regarding whether you are able to refuse a breathalyzer test without consequence vary from state to state. For instance, some states will allow you to refuse the test but will then automatically suspend your license for up to a year and prosecute you for drunk driving.

Can I be Arrested for Overserving a Friend at My Party?

In some states, a social host can be held liable for contributing to a drunk driving accident. If you are planning on hosting a party, you should make sure that all those drinking are 21 or older, that you discontinue serving someone who seems to have had too much to drink, and that you call cabs or set up designated drivers for those who do not have sober rides home.

What Are the Punishments for Drunk Driving?

The legal repercussions of drunk driving under DUI law vary depending on the state and the circumstances surrounding the accident. If you seriously injure someone or kill someone due to committing DUI, jail time may be likely.

In general, though, the following are some punishments you may face as a result of drinking and driving:

  • Jail sentence
  • Fines
  • Community service
  • Drug and alcohol counseling
  • Driver's license suspension