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The Basics of DUI Laws

Each state has its own DUI laws. These laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but what does not change is the seriousness of the crime. A DUI conviction is usually a misdemeanor, but it can escalate to a felony depending on the circumstances.

If you have been charged with a DUI, you will want to educate yourself on drunk driving law. You will also want to contact a DUI lawyer in your area. Of course, the best way to avoid a DUI conviction is to drink responsibly and designate a sober driver for nights out.


The crime of drinking and driving goes by different names depending on the DUI laws in your state.

Most states refer to drinking and driving as driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). Some states refer to this as operating while intoxicated (OWI) or operating while under the influence (OUI).

Regardless of the name, drunk driving across the country is the same crime. And although there are certain differences in DUI laws from state to state, drinking and driving is considered a serious crime with serious consequences.

Blood-Alcohol Level

To qualify as breaking a state's DUI laws, your blood-alcohol level must be equal to or greater than .08 percent. This means your blood contains eight one-hundredths of a percent of alcohol. This limit is the same in all states across the country.

This blood-alcohol limit is lower for those that are under 21. If you are under 21 and are caught drinking and driving, you may be punished under a state's zero-tolerance DUI laws. Under zero tolerance laws, your license may be automatically suspended from 90 days to six months.

Drunk Driving Arrests

A police officer has the authority to pull you over in your car if you commit a traffic violation, if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that you are impaired, or if he or she has set up a sobriety checkpoint.

Actions that may give an officer suspicion you are impaired include:

  • Weaving between lanes
  • Driving dangerously slow or fast
  • Taking wide turns
  • Uneven speeds
  • Hesitation in going through a green light

The officer may ask you to submit to what are known as field sobriety tests. These tests can include standing on one leg, walking a straight line, and following a moving object with your eyes without moving your head.

He may also ask you to submit to a breathalyzer test. This test requires you to breath into a device called a breathalyzer. This mechanism can detect traces of alcohol in your breath and provide the officer with an estimate of your blood-alcohol level.

If you fail the field sobriety tests or your blood-alcohol level is too high, the police officer will place you under arrest. In some states, you may refuse to take a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer test. However, doing so may result in severe consequences, such as the automatic suspension of your license.

Punishment Under DUI Laws

Because a DUI is usually considered a misdemeanor, a first offense is usually not punishable by more than a year in jail. Possible penalties of driving while drunk include:

  • Jail time
  • Fines
  • Alcohol or drug counseling
  • Community service
  • Suspension of your license

However, there are situations where the punishment for a DUI can be much more severe. In particular felony DUI does exist, specifically for repeat offenders and for those whose drunk driving results in serious injury to others.