Drunk driving, also known as “DUI” (Driving Under the Influence) or “DWI” (Driving While Intoxicated), is when a person’s driving is impaired by the use of alcohol or drugs. Intoxication is legally established by the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeding .08% or other visible evidence of inebriation such as swerving, slurred speech, or severe lack of attention noted by a law enforcement official. In some states this law can even extend beyond the driving of a motor vehicle to the operation of a bicycle.
In many states a zero-tolerance rule has been established, where anyone under the age of 21 operating a motor vehicle and having a BAC above 0.0% can be arrested for drunk driving.
Also, any type of drug used that results in inebriation can merit a DUI or DUID (Driving Under the Influence of Drugs), whether the drug is prescribed, over-the-counter, illegal, taken in conjunction with alcohol, or simply taken on its own.
A DUI can become a felony if another person is injured as a result of drunk driving, and much more severe consequences can be imposed. This is known as “Felony DUI”. In several states, if a person is killed as a result of the drunk driving, murder and manslaughter charges can be brought against the defendant.
A field sobriety test, or FST, is a test or series of tests administered on the driver by a law enforcement official to assess the level of impairment of the driver’s senses. The driver is asked to exit their vehicle and participate in activities that test their balance and spatial cognition (such as depth perception), among other senses. An example of such a test is requesting the driver to walk a straight line.
A roadside breath test or PAS is when the driver is asked by the official to blow into a breathalyzer to ascertain their blood alcohol concentration. If the BAC is over .08% the officer may make an arrest regardless of the perceived level of intoxication. Other tests, such as urine or blood tests, may be administered at a hospital following an arrest by a physician.
A frequently asked question is whether or not it is required to submit to these tests at the request of a police officer. The answer is complicated, with a list of pros and cons for both decisions. Legally, you cannot be arrested for refusing to submit to a test. When refusing a FST this may be a wise choice. Often, an officer has decided to detain a driver previous to requesting an FST; therefore, participating in one will not help you avoid an arrest. Also, since these tests are recorded on videotape by the officer, this will only serve as incriminating evidence at a DUI trial.
However, there are many serious consequences to refusing a FST or PAS. Many states issue a law of implied consent, stating that when driving a motor vehicle, you have already consented to participating in these tests if you are pulled over. According to this law, refusing these tests can result in the suspension of your driver’s license for up to six months. Even more severe consequences can be imposed if you are convicted of drunk driving. Refusal to take a PAS can be construed as “consciousness of guilt” to a jury, arguing that you refused to take the test with the foreknowledge that you would fail. Also, many states will tack on more jail time to a sentence if the defendant refused to take the test.
For first-time offences punishments can include a fine, suspension of the driver’s license, required attendance of road safety classes, counseling, and sometimes incarceration. For a repeat offence incarceration is almost always imposed.