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The Basics of North Carolina Drunk Driving Laws



With a penalty system that incorporates five different levels of punishment, North Carolina drunk driving laws are more complicated than many across the country.

If you are arrested for violating North Carolina DUI law, you should learn about the law. You will also want to act on your constitutional right to hire a North Carolina DUI lawyer to help understand the complexities of the state's various drunk driving statutes.

North Carolina Drunk Driving Charges

North Carolina has laws making it illegal to drive while impaired and also making it illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher. These are two separate charges, and you can be charged with both. If you are found guilty, however, you will only be punished for one infraction, and the punishments are identical for both.

Being charged for impaired driving does not depend upon any particular blood-alcohol level. For an officer to make an impaired-driving arrest, he or she only needs to have probable cause. Probable cause means the officer has a reasonable suspicion that you are guilty of driving while impaired.

To make an impaired driving arrest in North Carolina, the officer can rely on observed behavior.

There are two types of observations the police officer will likely rely upon. The first is your driving behavior. Some driving behaviors that cause an officer to suspect you of driving while impaired include:

  • Weaving from side to side
  • Driving in more than one lane at once
  • Driving with your headlights off at night
  • Speeding or driving excessively slow
  • Hesitating to pass through a green light
  • Crashing a red light

Under North Carolina drunk driving law, a police officer has the right to pull you over on suspicion of driving while impaired if you exhibit any of these behaviors, regardless of whether you were breaking a traffic law.

After pulling you over, the officer will try to determine whether you are impaired by observing your behavior. Some signs the police officer may look for include:

  • The scent of alcohol on your breath
  • Dilated pupils
  • Red eyes
  • Erratic behavior
  • Slurred speech

If you exhibit any of these signs, the officer may then ask you to perform a series of field sobriety tests. These tests may include:

  • Walking in a straight line, turning, and walking back
  • Following a moving object with your eyes while keeping your head stationary
  • Placing your arms to your side and standing on one foot

North Carolina DWI Charges

Besides driving while impaired, you may also be placed under arrest for driving while intoxicated, also referred to as DWI or DUI in North Carolina. This means you are operating a vehicle with a blood-alcohol content past the legal limit. Under North Carolina drunk driving laws, it is illegal to have a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent or higher.

A police officer may use the same methods to identify you as a possible DUI offender as when stopping you on suspicion of impaired driving. You may even have to take a battery of field sobriety tests. The police officer will also administer a breathalyzer test to gauge your blood-alcohol content.

A breathalyzer is a device to detect alcohol concentrations in someone's breath. When you blow into the breathalyzer, it provides an estimate of your blood-alcohol content. If the estimate is .08 percent or higher, the officer will arrest you for DUI. If your driving was impaired at the time, you may also be charged with driving while impaired in North Carolina.

Refusing a Breathalyzer Test in North Carolina

You can legally refuse a breathalyzer test in North Carolina. However, there is an implied consent law in North Carolina. Implied consent means that when you apply for a North Carolina driver's license, you implicitly agree to drug and alcohol testing should a police officer suspect you of driving while intoxicated. If you refuse a breathalyzer test, it can result in an automatic one-year driver's license suspension.