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What Are the Drunk Driving Laws in North Carolina?

On Behalf of Christian Ayers
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The drunk driving laws in the state are strict. Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) is illegal, and the state enforces strict punishments for DWI convictions. DWI drivers face criminal charges and civil liability for any harm they cause. A Charlotte drunk driving accident lawyer can help if you or a loved one has been injured in a DWI accident.

Understanding North Carolina’s DWI Laws

Some people assume that DWI and DUI mean different things, and there are a few states that define these terms differently. However, in the state, the terms DUI and DWI are interchangeable, although most laws refer to the offense as DWI. A driver commits a DWI offense whenever they operate any motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They can also face civil penalties if they cause an accident.

Police confirm intoxication by alcohol by measuring a driver’s blood-alcohol concentration, or BAC. Every driver in the state is subject to the implied consent law for chemical testing for DWI. The legal limit for most drivers is .08%, and anything beyond this level qualifies as DWI. For commercial drivers, the legal limit is .04%, and drivers who are under the age of 21 cannot drive with any detectable BAC under the state’s Zero-Tolerance policy.

It is important to note that the Zero-Tolerance policy applies to all drivers when it comes to drugs. It is illegal for any driver to operate a vehicle under the influence of drugs, and the police can use various methods to test for this kind of intoxication. Penalties for drugged driving are often severe, and defendants arrested for drugged driving are commonly prosecuted for drug possession charges alongside their DWI charges.

What are the drunk driving laws in North Carolina?

Penalties for DWI

A DWI driver will face various penalties if they are convicted, and these penalties increase if they have a history of prior DWI convictions. They will also increase if they are at fault for an accident. If a DWI driver caused an accident, they are liable for the resulting damages, and the fact that they harmed another party will impact the severity of their penalties in their criminal case. DWI can qualify as a felony when the defendant has inflicted severe or fatal injuries.

A first offense that does not result in injury or death is likely to qualify as a Level 5 DWI offense, the lowest level of DWI in North Carolina. Level 1 is the most serious, with the harshest penalties. The level of conviction a DWI driver faces typically hinges on the aggravating and mitigating factors present in the case. Aggravating factors enhance the defendant’s penalties, while mitigating factors can help reduce their penalties.

When a DWI driver has caused an accident and injured someone else, it is a significant aggravating factor that will likely increase the severity of the penalties assigned to them upon conviction. Additionally, the injured victim will have the right to pursue compensation for their damages just as they would after any other accident. Their process of recovery will begin with an auto insurance claim, followed by a personal injury suit.


Q: What Is the Zero-Tolerance Law?

A: The Zero-Tolerance law applies to drivers under 21 who are not legally allowed to purchase or consume alcohol. This policy dictates that if a driver under the age of 21 is tested for BAC and the test reports any detectable level of alcohol, the driver faces a DWI charge. Penalties for under-21 DWI vary from case to case but generally include longer license suspensions than those assigned to drivers over 21 convicted of DWI.

Q: What Are the Penalties for DWI?

A: Generally, the penalties for DWI conviction include fines, suspension of driver’s license, and incarceration. It is also possible for a sentencing judge to include additional penalties at their discretion, such as restitution to any victims harmed by the defendant’s actions, mandatory substance abuse treatment, and more. Penalties increase for multiple offenses or if defendants cause serious bodily harm or death.

Q: Can a Driver Avoid Jail Time for a First DWI?

A: A driver can sometimes avoid jail for a first DWI offense as long as they did not injure or kill anyone and they are compliant with the police and prosecution. This is typically only an option for first offenders. If a driver manages to avoid jail time for a first DWI conviction and later commits a second DWI, they are likely to face the maximum jail sentence for the second offense.

Q: Can I Sue a Drunk Driver Who Hit Me?

A: Yes, you can sue a drunk driver who hit you; you have the right to seek compensation for the losses you suffered from the accident. They will also face criminal prosecution from the state, and you could secure restitution along with your claimed damages. It is also possible for a civil court judge to award punitive damages when a defendant has inflicted a personal injury through an illegal action.

Q: Do I Need to Hire an Attorney for a Drunk Driving Accident Claim?

A: You will do much better with your case if you hire an attorney for a drunk driving claim. Fault may seem readily apparent, but do not take this to mean you can handle your case on your own. Having an experienced Charlotte drunk driving accident lawyer representing you will significantly improve your chances of success with the case, reduce the time it takes to complete the case, and will likely result in far more compensation than you may have initially expected.

Ayers, Whitlow & Dressler can provide the legal counsel you need on your side after a drunk driving accident. We know you are likely to have many pressing legal questions in this situation, and we want to help you approach your recovery efforts with peace of mind and confidence. Contact our team today and schedule a free consultation with a Charlotte drunk driving accident lawyer to learn how we can assist with your case.