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The Basics of New York Drunk Driving Laws



Like some other states, New York drunk driving offenses are split into several categories. Driving while ability impaired by alcohol, or DWAI, in New York means a driver is impaired but has a blood-alcohol content below .08. Driving under the influence, or DUI, in New York means a driver has a blood-alcohol level equal to or greater than .08 percent but less than .18 percent. (Sometimes this is also called driving while intoxicated, or DWI, in New York.) And aggravated DUI in New York means a driver has a blood-alcohol level at or above .18 percent.

In addition to DWAI, DWI or DUI, and aggravated DUI, New York also has zero-tolerance laws that apply to those under 21 who are caught driving with blood-alcohol contents of .02 percent to .07 percent.

Understanding these different offenses is helpful if you have been charged with violating New York State drunken driving laws.

New York Drunk Driving Offenses Defined

DWAI occurs when your driving is impaired by alcohol but your blood-alcohol content is between .05 percent and .07 percent. First and second DWAI infractions are considered traffic violations, but under New York drunk driving laws a third DWAI is considered to be a misdemeanor if it occurs within 10 years of the other convictions.

A New York DWI or DUI occurs under two circumstances. The first is when the driver's blood-alcohol content is equal to or greater than .08. The other method, which is similar to a DWAI, is when there is evidence of intoxication. Evidence of intoxication may include such identifiers as open bottles of liquor in the car, slurred speech, and erratic driving behavior. A first DWI offense is a misdemeanor in New York, but the crime quickly escalates to a felony with the second offense if it occurs within 10 years of the first.

An aggravated DWI or DUI occurs when someone has an exceedingly high blood-alcohol level in New York. Specifically, if your blood-alcohol content is at or above .18 percent, you will be charged with this serious crime. The penalties for aggravated DWI are almost identical to those for a regular DWI but with one distinct difference. With aggravated DWI, you risk harsher driver's license revocation penalties.

Getting Stopped by Police in New York

A patrolling officer may single your vehicle out if you are displaying behavior typical of intoxicated drivers. Specifically, if you exhibit any of the following, a police officer is more likely to pull you over:

  • Speeding or driving excessively slow
  • Weaving back and forth
  • Driving at night with your headlights off
  • Crashing red lights or hesitating to pass through green lights
  • Driving in multiple lanes at once
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road

Once the officer pulls you over, he or she will observe your behavior, physical traits, and actions in an effort to confirm whether you are inebriated. The office may look to see if your pupils are dilated, if your speech is slurred, and if there is the scent of alcohol on your breath.

The office may also require you to step out of your vehicle and submit to a field sobriety test. A field sobriety test is meant help an officer develop probable cause against you. Probable cause means that the arresting officer has a valid reason to believe that you broke the law.

Field sobriety tests may include:

  • Standing on one foot
  • Saying the alphabet
  • Walking in a straight line

Breathalyzer & Chemical Tests

New York drunk driving laws also allow the officer to administer a breathalyzer test. This test uses a device known as a breathalyzer to determine your blood-alcohol content based on trace amounts in your breath. If your blood-alcohol level is above the legal limit, the officer will place you under arrest and take you to the police station.

At the station, you may be required to submit to chemical testing to more accurately gauge your blood-alcohol content.

Refusing Chemical Testing in New York

Refusing to submit to a chemical test for blood-alcohol content can have serious penalties under New York drunk driving laws. New York, like many other states, has implied consent laws. This means that as long as you have a state driver's license, your consent is implied when an officer asks you to submit to a drug or alcohol test if the office suspects you of driving while intoxicated.

The first time you refuse to submit to chemical testing in New York, your license will be revoked for at least a year. You will also have to pay a fine of $500. If you refuse a second time within five years of the first refusal, your license may be revoked for 18 months. You will also have to pay a fine of $750.