Drunk driving is a serious offense no matter where you are, but the laws in North Carolina are especially harsh if you’re caught. Not only will a drunk driving conviction take a toll on your wallet, but it will also jeopardize your freedom, driving privileges, reputation, and future opportunities. Not to mention the potential injury or death you may cause, which can lead to increased penalties and even personal injury lawsuits.
That’s why it’s important to know the drunk driving laws in North Carolina and what will happen if you are ever stopped by a law enforcement officer.
Drunk Driving Laws in North Carolina
In our state, drunk driving is called driving while impaired (DWI). The law says that you are legally impaired when your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is:
- 08 percent or higher if you are 21 or older
- 04 percent or higher if you are a commercial driver
- Any amount if you are younger than 21
- 04 percent or higher if you have a prior DWI
North Carolina law also prohibits:
- Having an open container in the car if the driver is drinking or has been drinking alcohol
- Having an open or closed container in the passenger area of a commercial motor vehicle
- Buying or giving alcohol to someone younger than 21 or lending someone under 21 an ID so they can buy alcohol
DWI penalties in North Carolina are based on certain levels that cover your BAC, current driving record and driving history, prescription medications, and anything else relevant to your DWI situation. If you are convicted of a DWI and it’s your first conviction, your penalties will include:
- A one-year mandatory revocation of your driver’s license
- A minimum punishment of a fine up to $200 and 24 hours in jail, 24 hours of community service, or any combination of these
- A maximum punishment of a fine up to $4,000 and between 30 days to 24 months in jail
If your BAC is 0.15 percent or greater, your driving privileges will be suspended immediately for 45 days and you will have to have an ignition-interlock system – a device that tests your breath for alcohol – installed in your car for one year.
If you receive subsequent DWI convictions, you will face harsher penalties and your legal BAC will be lowered after each conviction due to your history.
What If I Get Stopped?
So what will happen if you get stopped on suspicion of a DWI? There are a number of things that can happen depending on the circumstances surrounding the stop and your behavior. Here are a few things you might expect:
- As with most traffic stops, you will be required to show the officer your driver’s license and vehicle registration information.
- You may be asked to get out of your car.
- You may be asked to perform a preliminary roadside sobriety test or a preliminary breath test. A breath test will be with a handheld device called an AlcoSensor to determine your intoxication level. But remember, the results of this test can’t be used at trial! A roadside sobriety test might include:
- The one-legged stand test, where you will stand on one leg with the other leg about 6 inches off the ground and count to 30.
- The walk-and-turn test, where you will walk heel to toe for a certain number of paces, turn, and then walk back the same way.
- The horizontal gaze nystagmus test, where an officer will ask you to follow an object with your eyes while your head remains still.
- You could be searched, handcuffed, arrested, restrained in a law enforcement vehicle, and transported to a police station for a breath test, blood test, or both.
- If you refuse to take a breath or blood test, you could lose your driver’s license for up to a year by the DMV. Additionally, refusal will lead to an immediate license revocation of at least 30 days, and the officer can require you to provide a blood sample that you’re unable to refuse.
- You could be booked into jail and have your mug shot taken and published for anyone to see.
- If you are charged with a DWI, you will have to appear in court and enter a plea for your offense.
As you can see, drunk driving is not taken lightly in North Carolina, and you shouldn’t take DWI charges lightly either. If you’ve been charged with a DWI, you need to contact an experienced North Carolina DWI lawyer who will protect your rights and prepare the best possible defense to get positive results in your case.
About the Author
Attorney Mike Schlosser represents victims of personal injury, those charged with a crime, as well as those facing traffic charges. A former Guilford County, North Carolina District Attorney, Schlosser has been in private practice at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett since 1983 and has been a member of the North Carolina State Bar since 1973.