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  • DUI & DWI in North Carolina

    Introduction

    Drunk driving―or “driving while impaired” (DWI) in North Carolina―is a serious offense that not only can drain your bank account, take away your freedom, and crush your reputation―it also can seriously injure and even kill.

    North Carolina DWI Defined

    North Carolina’s Safe Roads Act of 1983 did away with all of the state’s previous drug- and alcohol-related driving laws and put everything under a single offense―driving while impaired, or DWI.

    Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the most common way NC determines whether you’re legally impaired.

    • 21 or Older: 0.08%
    • Commercial drivers (CDL): 0.04%
    • Younger than 21: Any alcohol concentration
    • Prior DWI: 0.04% *

    The state also looks at whether your physical or mental fitness is provably impaired by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both.

    * If you have a prior DWI conviction and license reinstatement, you can’t drive with a BAC of 0.04% or higher; however, this can depend on your driving record and whether you were charged and convicted after July, 1, 2001.

    Additional Drug and Alcohol Crimes

    In addition to driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, NC DWI laws prohibit:

    • Having an open container in the vehicle if the driver is or has been consuming alcohol.
    • Having an open or closed container in the passenger area of a commercial motor vehicle.
    • Helping someone younger than 21 years old obtain alcohol. This includes buying or giving them alcohol, or lending an ID so they can buy alcohol.

    Understand Your DWI Penalties

    NC DWI penalties are serious business. Based on your age, the offense number, and your license type, you face penalties like:

    • Fines, including court costs and lawyer fees.
    • License suspension or revocation.
    • Jail time. For some offenses, the jail time is mandatory rather than possible.
    • Community service.
    • Higher car insurance rates.

    Depending on your situation, you might also enroll in an alcohol safety school or substance abuse assessment program.

    NC DWI Penalties: Younger Than 21

    If you’re younger than 21 years old and caught doing any of the following, you’ll lose your license for a 30-day pretrial period, and then 1 year thereafter:

    • Operating a motor vehicle with any measurable amount of alcohol in your system.
    • Purchasing or attempting to purchase alcohol.
    • Helping someone else purchase alcohol.
    • Using a fraudulent driver’s license or ID, or other falsified document to purchase alcohol.
    • Using someone else’s driver’s license or ID to purchase alcohol.

    Your judge will inform you of additional penalties, such as fines, court costs, and possible community service.

    DWI Penalties: 21 and Older

    NC DWI penalties are based on your “level,” and your judge uses mitigating factors to determine your level. Factors include your BAC, prescription medications, your current driving record, and other aspects of your DWI situation and overall driving history.

    North Carolina DWI Levels

    Level 5

    • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
    • Up to a $200 fine.
    • Between 24 hours and 60 days in jail. (Your judge might suspend your sentence to 24 hours of imprisonment or 24 hours of community service as part of probation.)
    • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

    Level 4

    • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
    • Up to a $500 fine.
    • Between 48 hours and 120 days in jail. (Your judge might suspend your sentence to 48 hours of imprisonment or 48 hours of community service as part of probation.)
    • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

    Level 3

    • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
    • Up to a $1,000 fine.
    • Between 72 hours and 6 months in jail. (Your judge might suspend your sentence to 72 hours of imprisonment or 72 hours of community service as part of probation.)
    • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

    Level 2

    • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
    • Up to a $2,000 fine.
    • Between 7 days and 12 months in jail. (Your judge might suspend your sentence to 90 days of abstaining from alcohol, which the court will monitor.)
    • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

    Level 1

    • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
    • Up to a $4,000 fine.
    • Between 30 days and 24 months in jail. (Your judge might give you 10 days under probation cases involving alcohol monitoring for 120 days.)
    • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

    Aggravated Level 1

    • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
    • Up to a $10,000 fine.
    • Between 12 months and 36 months in jail. (Your judge might give you 120 days under probation cases involving alcohol monitoring for a minimum of 120 days.)
    • Monitored abstaining from alcohol for 4 months after prison release.
    • Substance abuse assessment.

    DWI License Suspension and Revocation

    DWI brings mandatory license suspension:

    • First conviction: 1 year.
    • Subsequent convictions (within 3 years): 4 years.

    NOTE: Certain factors might shorten or lengthen your revocation period.

    Current DWI Suspensions and Revocations

    Catch another DWI charge while your license is already suspended or revoked due to DWI?

    Say goodbye to your vehicle.

    Under NC law, the state can not only seize your car, but also sell it if you drive while impaired using a license that’s already suspended or revoked for DWI.

    Other DWI Penalties

    Chemical Test Refusal Penalties

    Like all states, North Carolina enforces an Implied Consent Law. This means that by operating your motor vehicle on NC roads, you’ve implied that you give consent for law enforcement officers to administer a chemical test to determine your BAC.

    If you refuse a chemical test, penalties include:

    • Immediate driver’s license revocation for a minimum of 30 days.
    • Additional driver’s license revocation for 12 months tacked on to your standard revocation period (even if you’re found not guilty).

    Substance Abuse Assessment

    The NC DMV and state court system work with the state’s Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services to make sure DWI offenders receive substance abuse assessment and complete any required steps, such as education courses like the state’s Alcohol and Drug Education Traffic School (ADETS) or treatment programs.

    Your judge, DWI attorney, and possibly the NC DMV will provide you with information specific to your situation, but you can get a head start with these facts:

    • $100 fee for the DWI assessment.
    • $160 fee for ADETS.
    • Treatment program costs vary by provider, but they’re all at least a few hundred dollars.
    • Some DWI offenders can skip treatment programs and enroll only in ADETS after their assessment. Your judge and substance abuse assessment coordinator will determine if you’re eligible, but requirements consist of first-time DWI convictions, submitting to the chemical test, and showing no criteria for being dependent on substances.
    • You can’t have your license reinstated until you meet all the assessment, ADETS, and possible treatment program requirements.

    Visit the Division’s Driving While Impaired Services online for more information, including a thorough FAQ section and a local provider locator.

    Ignition Interlock Device

    NC requires an ignition interlock device (IID) for any driver convicted of DWI:

    • With a 0.15% BAC or higher.
    • A subsequent offense within 7 years.

    The state provides a list of approved IID providers.

    SR 22: Car Insurance and Proof of Financial Responsibility

    Unlike some states, North Carolina doesn’t require DWI offenders to file an SR 22, which is a document that shows proof of financial responsibility (i.e. you’re carrying the state’s required minimum liability coverage).

    However, most auto coverage providers charge higher rates to DWI offenders; this is understandable, as drivers convicted of driving while impaired are seen as a greater risk.

    So, when it’s time to renew your car insurance policy, you might shop around and compare rates from several other providers to make sure you’re getting the best price possible, given your driving history.

    Commercial Drivers and DWI

    Often, commercial drivers face tougher DWI penalties than drivers with regular driver licenses, even for first offenses. Making those penalties even tougher is the fact that, for commercial drivers, their jobs are on the line.

    The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) handles all regulations and penalties associated with commercial vehicle drivers throughout the country.

    Visit the FMCSA’s Disqualification of Drivers for specific information.

    When to Hire a DWI Attorney

    DWI violators will appear in front of a judge, so start comparing DWI attorneys as soon as possible after your DWI arrest.

    An experienced DWI lawyer can help you get as close to the minimum penalties as possible, as well as help negotiate limited driving privileges and penalty alternatives like community service.

    As you search for a DWI lawyer, remember:

    • North Carolina-based attorneys are more familiar with the state’s laws.
    • Look for lawyers who specialize in NC DWI laws and already have experience representing defendants charged with DWI.
    • An attorney’s past cases can help you determine whether the lawyer is right for you or not. Ask for general information, and how the attorney thinks your case compares to others.

    Applying for Limited Driving Privileges

    Generally, the court and DMV issue limited driving privileges of their own discretion, which means you don’t technically apply for a restricted license, but you can request restricted privileges.

    Speak with your judge about limited driving privileges at your hearing. You might find you’re immediately eligible, or you’ll learn how long into your suspension or revocation you must get before the court will issue limited driving privileges.

    Reinstate Your NC Driver’s License

    To reinstate your driver’s license, you must complete all the requirements of your suspension or revocation, including but not limited to:

    • Completing your suspension or revocation time period.
    • Paying your fines and other court costs.
    • Completing your jail sentence or community service.
    • Completing your substance abuse assessment, ADETS education course, and possible treatment or rehabilitation program.
    • Paying the $100 fee for license restoration.
    Compare SR-22 Insurance Rates in 3 Steps

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