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The Basics of Michigan Drunk Driving Laws



According to Michigan drunk driving laws, there are two types of convictions you can get for drinking and driving. The first is known in Michigan as an OWI, which stands for operating while intoxicated. The other is known in Michigan as an OWVI, which stands for operating while visibly impaired.

OWI means that the driver was operating a vehicle with a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent or above.

An OWVI is when a driver is impaired by alcohol but his or her blood-alcohol level is below .08 percent. This means that even though a driver is not technically over Michigan drunk driving laws' legal limit, the driver can still be charged with a crime for operating a vehicle after drinking. Those guilty of OWVI are usually identified by their driving pattern, their behavior, and certain physical qualities.

The two charges are not the same and entail different penalties. If you are charged with either crime, you should reach out to a Michigan DUI lawyer, who can help you understand your rights and options under the law.

Identifying Michigan Drunk Driving

Police will first usually identify someone who is guilty of violating Michigan drunk driving laws after pulling the person over for a traffic violation. However, Michigan police may also stop a vehicle as part of a routine sobriety roadblock. A sobriety roadblock is a legal method police can employ to curb drunk driving by checking drivers to ensure sobriety.

If you were not stopped at a roadblock or for committing a traffic violation, then you may have been pulled over due to your driving behavior. Types of driving behavior that might make a police officer suspect drunk driving include:

  • Hesitating to pass through a green light
  • Driving too slowly
  • Weaving from side to side or excessively changing lanes
  • Braking too quickly or slowly

Once the officer has pulled you over, he or she will attempt to identify behavioral or physical qualities that would help give the officer probable cause to believe you are drunk. Probable cause means that the office has a reasonable belief you have broken the law. These clues include:

  • Slurred speech or trouble talking
  • Unable to focus your eyes or bloodshot eyes
  • The smell of alcohol on your breath

The officer may then put you through several field sobriety tests. These tests are intended to gauge whether you are too intoxicated to control a vehicle. Common field sobriety tests include:

  • Following an object with your eyes while keeping your head still
  • Standing on one foot
  • Walking in a straight line
  • Saying the alphabet
  • Touching your nose with your eyes closed

Checking Your Blood-Alcohol Content

After judging your behavior, a police officer may administer a breath screening using a breathalyzer. A breathalyzer is a device that can estimate your blood-alcohol content based on residual alcohol in your breath.

If you register a .08 percent or higher, you will be charged with OWI in Michigan. If you register with below .08 percent, you may be charged with OWVI in Michigan.

If you refuse to take this preliminary breath screening, then, according to the Michigan Department of State, you will be charged with a civil infraction and fined for $150 plus court costs. This is because there is implied consent under Michigan drunk driving laws. Implied consent means that if you have a driver's license, you must agree to take chemical and breath tests for alcohol if an officer suspects you of drinking and driving.

Even if you do take the breath test, an officer will still likely administer a chemical test to more accurately gauge your blood-alcohol content. If you refuse to take the chemical test, your license will be suspended for a year.

If you have further questions about DUI laws in Michigan, contact a local Michigan DUI attorney.