Among driving violations, drunk driving is usually considered a special case. Called by various names, including Driving Under the Influence (DUI), Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Operating While Intoxicated (OWI), drunk driving usually results in stronger fines and penalties than normal driving violations.
Drunk driving means that the persons driving have consumed enough alcohol to impair their driving abilities. This is usually determined either by a blood-alcohol test, some other sobriety test, or just the observations of the officer. The test is subjective: just because drivers do not feel drunk does not mean they cannot be arrested for drunk driving.
A blood alcohol test measures the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood. This can be done directly, through drawing blood from the person, or it can be done with instruments measuring breath or urine. Some states allow a choice as to which test to take, others do not. If persons test above the level of intoxication for their state (.08 to.10 percent, depending on the state), they are considered drunk and a prima facie case of drunk driving has been shown.
A blood alcohol test can be refused, but the consequences can be severe. In most states, refusal to take a blood alcohol test is prima facie evidence of drunk driving. In some states refusal to take the test can result in the automatic revocation of a license for a year.
Whether a driver is drunk can also be measured using a sobriety test, such as requiring the driver to walk a straight line, stand on one leg, or recite a group of letters or numbers. A driver failing any of these tests can usually be arrested for drunk driving, though often the police officer requests a blood alcohol test as a follow up. The officer can also base the arrest on simple observation of the driver’s behavior, although a request for a blood alcohol test is a standard follow-up in these instances as well.
Currently 31 states require a level of.08 or above in order for drivers to be considered intoxicated. They are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia. The other states all require.10 or above in order for a driver to be considered intoxicated. Currently all states have zero tolerance laws that make it illegal for drivers under the age of 21 to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level of.02 or less.