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What is a DUI?
What is a DUI?
Nov 26

What is a DUI?

Learn basic DUI laws and information.

Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a crime in every state. This can include both legal and illegal drugs if the quantity consumed is enough to impair your driving. Each state sets its own limits on the required blood alcohol concentration (BAC) the driver must reach to be considered impaired. A police officer obtains the BAC by asking the driver to blow into a device that measures the amount of alcohol or drugs present in the blood. A level at or above the legal limit can mean immediate arrest.

DUI Meaning

DUI is an acronym for driving under the influence. It means that the level of alcohol or drugs present in your body is too high for you to operate a motor vehicle safely. Alcohol and drugs can slow reaction times and cause drivers to exhibit poor judgment. This puts the safety of others on the road at risk. States enforce DUI laws to prevent innocent people from incurring a severe injury or dying due to another person’s impaired driving. While not always successful, the law hopes that the consequences of a DUI force people who struggle with excess drug and alcohol intake to seek help for their problem.

Legal Blood Alcohol Level

Each state government has the power to determine its own threshold for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for a person to be considered legally impaired. That level is .08 percent in all 50 states as of late 2018. Many states also impose other legal limits of driver impairment, including what is acceptable for drivers under the legal drinking age of 21. Known as the Zero Tolerance Law, some states have chosen to enforce a .00 BAC and some have adopted a .02 BAC. For states in the first category, this means that young drivers cannot have even a drop of alcohol in their body or they could face the same penalties as an older driver with a higher BAC.

Several states also enforce an Enhanced Penalty BAC level. This typically means that you tested with a very high level of alcohol or drugs in your system. Of the states that enforce this law, only New Jersey sets the BAC limit at .10. The limit in the other 43 states ranges between .15 and .20. Only six states have no Enhanced Penalty law. These include:

  • Alabama
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Oregon
  • Vermont

In addition to driving at an intoxication level that is nearly twice the legal limit, states may choose to arrest a driver with an Enhanced Penalty for the following offenses:

  1. The DUI arrest also included a ticket for excessive speed
  2. Multiple previous DUI convictions
  3. Driving on a revoked or suspended license
  4. Minor children present in vehicle at the time of the DUI arrest with each state providing its own definition of minor


The terms DUI and DWI, which stands for driving while intoxicated, are often used interchangeably to describe the same offense. It also depends on the preference of the state enforcing rules about impaired driving. In states that use both terms, DUI tends to suggest a less serious offense than DWI. For practical purposes, that means the driver had a lower BAC at the time of his or her arrest

Is a DUI a Criminal Offense?

Every state considers a DUI a criminal offense instead of a traffic offense because the consequences of driving while impaired can be so severe. A charge of DUI will result in both administrative and criminal penalties. Suspension of your driver’s license is an example of a penalty that falls into the first category while spending time in jail is an example of a criminal penalty stemming from a DUI conviction.

Is a DUI a Misdemeanor?

A DUI is charged as a misdemeanor under normal circumstances such as when it is your first offense or arrest of any kind. However, you should know that even a misdemeanor charge can mean spending up to one year in jail.

Is a DUI a Felony?

You may be charged with a felony if you have had multiple DUI arrests or had other aggravating circumstances such as driving the car impaired while committing a robbery. Receiving a charge of a misdemeanor or felony determines several factors in your case such as whether you need to use an ignition interlock, pay restitution, the fines you must pay, and whether you spend time in jailFor DUI laws specific to your state, you may wish to check with a local attorney.