You know what driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs is? The specific offense can be called “driving under the influence” (DUI), “driving while intoxicated” (DWI), “operating under the influence” (OUI) and even “operating a vehicle of intoxicated motor ”(Operating a Motor Vehicle Impaired, OMVI). Beyond naming, DUI laws make it illegal to drive a car, truck, motorcycle, or commercial vehicle if:
– the person’s ability to drive the vehicle safely is impaired by the effects of alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription medications such as pain relievers, or over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines; or
– the driver’s level of intoxication exceeds established DUI limits, such as blood alcohol concentration.
Sobriety Testing and Chemical Substances
When a law enforcement officer stops a vehicle because he suspects that the driver may be intoxicated, he or she performs a “sobriety” test on the driver and may request his or her consent to carry out some type of chemical intoxication test.
Generally, sobriety tests consist of asking the driver to perform a series of tasks to assess any decline in the person’s physical or cognitive abilities. Some examples of field sobriety tests include: having the driver walk in a straight line, supporting from heel to toe; let him recite the alphabet backwards; and have the officer use the “horizontal nystagmus” test (eye and pocket flashlight).
Chemical tests can be done when the vehicle is stopped, with a breathalyzer that measures the concentration of alcohol in the blood, or in a hospital, with a urine and blood test. Many states allow the suspected DUI driver to choose what type of chemical test to undergo.
Refusing a Chemical Test: Implied Consent Laws
All states have “implied consent” laws that require drivers to submit to some type of chemical test, such as a breathalyzer or blood or urine tests, if a DUI is suspected. The rationale behind these laws is that it follows from the privilege of driving a vehicle on the streets and highways of a state that drivers have consented to DUI testing when a police officer reasonably believes that the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
If a driver refuses to submit to such tests, implied consent laws stipulate penalties such as mandatory driver’s license suspension, typically for a period of six months to one year. Often times, the licensing penalties for refusing to submit to testing are more severe than those for failing a DUI test. In most states, the refusal of a driver to submit to a chemical test can be used to compound the penalties imposed in the event of a DUI conviction.
DUI “Per Se” and “Zero Tolerance” Laws
All states have DUI laws that consider “intoxicated per se” any driver with a blood alcohol concentration above the imposed limit (currently 0.08 in all states). This means that drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher are legally intoxicated and no further intoxication tests are needed.
Also, all states have “zero tolerance” laws targeting drivers under the legal drinking age. These laws penalize people under the age of 21 for driving a vehicle with any trace of alcohol in their body (a blood alcohol concentration greater than 0.0) or with negligible levels of alcohol in the blood, such as 0.01 or 0.02.
Remember that a driver can be arrested and convicted of DUI even without evidence of intoxication “per se”, when there is evidence that his abilities were impaired while driving.