Like the technology in the many vehicles on the road today, US DUI laws have evolved to fit the expectations of the public. There have been too many avoidable tragedies due to psychoactive substances, and the government is in charge of setting the laws that will hopefully deter drivers from taking a chance. Understanding the penalties of getting caught will hopefully make it easier to make smarter decisions.
What Is a DUI?
A DUI technically stands for Driving Under Influence. While the term is usually applied to drinking and driving, the reality is that a DUI can refer to any driver who has consumed a substance that's altered their state of mind. So whether that's one too many cocktails or cocaine, it's a catch-all definition for someone who was in no position to get behind the wheel.
And while the term may suggest that you need to actually be driving the car, this isn't actually the case. You only have to be reasonably in control of the vehicle at the time you were caught. If you're sleeping in the driver's seat of a legally parked car with the keys on (or at least near) your person, a law enforcement officer can still charge you. The idea is that at any point, you could have woken up and immediately begun to drive.
Legal Blood Alcohol Limit
The real DUI meaning is often tied up in just how much you've had to drink. Law enforcement officials will test your blood alcohol limit as a means of determining whether or not you've broken the rules.
But because different people have different tolerances, there is no standard cut-off for just how much you can drink. In other words, it's not as though there's a rulebook you can check to tell you that one martini is perfectly acceptable but one and a half martinis will put you in dangerous territory.
The legal blood limit for all states is (at most) .08%, which can be as low as two standard drinks for a 120-pound woman or as high as four drinks for a 220-pound man. In some states, the limit is as low as .05% which can be as low as one drink for a 100-pound woman and two drinks for a 140-pound man. If you would like to estimate your current BAC, please try out our BAC Calculator.
DUI Vs. DWI
You may hear both of these terms used interchangeably, which can be confusing because they are technically different in certain states. A DWI stands for Driving While Intoxicated, and it can be the same thing as a DUI. However, in certain states, a DWI is a more severe crime than a DUI. It comes down to just how high the driver's blood alcohol concentration was at the time of testing. The higher a person is over the limit, the more likely it is they'll be faced with harsher penalties than that of a DUI. (Exact limits may vary by state.)
Q: Is a DUI a Criminal Offense?
A: A DUI is considered a criminal offense as opposed to a traffic offense.
Q: Is a DUI a Misdemeanor?
A: In all states, the first DUI is considered a misdemeanor.
Q: Is a DUI a felony?
A: A DUI can be considered a felony if the driver has multiple infractions on their record. The exact rules and punishments will vary by state.
As you might have already guessed by now, staying clear of a DUI means erring on the side of caution. Ultimately, all of the rules and regulations are a motivator for drivers to hand over their keys if they're remotely nervous that they've crossed a line. If you are facing a DUI we suggest speaking to a DUI lawyer near you.