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Important Information about

DWI Laws

Driving While Impaired Everyone’s driving is impaired at a blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, of 0.08 percent, but many people are affected at much lower levels. Research shows that the risk of being involved in a crash increases when the alcohol level is 0.05 percent, and at 0.08 percent the risk of causing a fatal crash is even greater.

The North Carolina Driver’s Handbook  In 1983, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the Safe Roads Act. This act repealed all previous laws on drunk driving in North Carolina and replaced them with a single offense of “Driving While Impaired–DWI.”

If an officer charges you with driving while impaired, you will be asked to take a chemical test of your breath or blood. Refusal to perform any required test will result in the immediate revocation of your driver license for at least 30 days and an additional, minimum 12-month revocation by the DMV.

In certain instances, after six months of the willful refusal revocation has elapsed, the judge may issue a limited driving privilege. If your intoxication test shows a BAC of 0.08 percent or more (0.04 or more, if you are driving a commercial motor vehicle), your driving privilege will be revoked immediately for a minimum of 30 days.

Additionally, the results of your chemical test or the fact that you refused to take the test will be admissible as evidence in court.

Driving while impaired can be proven in one of two ways:

• Proving the driver’s physical or mental fitness are appreciably

impaired by alcohol, drugs, or both

• By proving the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 percent or more

DWI Laws

1. Allow enforcement agencies to set up road blocks to check for impaired drivers

2. Prohibit drivers from consuming any alcoholic beverage, including beer, while driving

3. Prohibit the transport of an open container of any alcoholic beverage, including the passenger area of the car

4. Prohibit the possession of alcoholic beverages (open or closed) in the passenger area of a commercial motor vehicle while upon any highway, street or public vehicular area

5. Provide for different levels of severity of punishment based on the severity of the offense

6. Require persons who are convicted of DWI for the second time to serve a jail sentence

7. Attempt to punish DWI offenders, but also try to help them deal with problems they may have with alcohol

8. Require anyone convicted of DWI to obtain a substance abuse assessment and complete a counseling program prior to reinstatement of driving privileges

If you are convicted of DWI

1st conviction: Mandatory revocation of your driver license for a period of one year.

2nd conviction: Mandatory driver license revocation for a period of four years when convicted of a prior offense which occurred within three years of the current offense for which the license is being revoked.

3rd conviction: Mandatory, permanent driver license revocation if at least one of the prior convictions occurred within the past five years.

4th conviction: Mandatory permanent driver license revocation.The fourth conviction is considered a felony if the three prior DWI convictions occurred within the past seven years.

DWLR If you are convicted of DWI while your license is revoked for an earlier DWI conviction, the court may order your vehicle seized and sold.

Blood Alcohol Concentration Restrictions A blood alcohol concentration restriction will be required when a license is restored following a suspension for DWI or when a Limited Driving Privilege is issued following a DWI conviction.

On the first restoration, the alcohol concentration restriction will be 0.04. On a second or subsequent restoration, the alcohol concentration restriction will be 0.00.

Additionally, if you are convicted of DWI in a commercial motor vehicle, driving after consuming alcohol or drugs while under the age of 21, or felony death by vehicle, the alcohol concentration restriction will be 0.00.

Furthermore, a conviction of Driving While Impaired with a BAC of 0.15 or more, or another conviction within the past seven years, will require an ignition interlock device to be installed on the vehicle.

Alcohol and the Young Driver The legal age to purchase any alcoholic beverage in North Carolina is 21. It is against the law for any person who is younger than 21 years of age to purchase or to attempt to purchase alcohol.

The law requires a one-year driver license revocation upon conviction for:

1. Any underage person who attempts to purchase or purchases an alcoholic


2. Any underage person who aids or abets another who attempts to purchase or purchases an alcoholic beverage

3. Any underage person who obtains or attempts to obtain alcoholic beverages by using or attempting to use a fraudulent driver license or other ID or another

person’s driver license or ID

4. Any person who permits his or her driver license or any other ID to be used by an underage person to purchase or attempt to purchase an alcoholic beverage

5. Any person who gives an alcoholic beverage to any underage person

Some Factors that contribute to the Punishment for DWI’s

In calculating a DWI offense in NC, driving records from all states in which a person has driven must be considered. Whether it is an NC DWI or DWI in another state, the prior DWI will be taken into consideration by the court or the DWI assessment agency. If a person receives a DWI in any other state, and gets another DWI in NC within 3 years, the NC DWI will be considered a second offense by the court.

Habitual Impaired Driving: Receiving a fourth DWI conviction within a 10 year period will result in a conviction of Habitual Impaired Driving. This DWI is considered a felony and a minimum prison sentence of one year. The prison sentence cannot be suspended or shortened for any reason. Loss of Driver’s License is lifetime and cannot be reinstated at any time. No appeals are allowed by the North Carolina DMV for a conviction of Habitual Impaired Driving. The NC Legislature has changed the 10 year limit on 3 DWIs. In the new law passes, receiving 3 DWIs lifetime will constitute “Habitual Driving While Impaired.”

If you are convicted of Driving While Impaired in the State of NC

A number of things happen. After the hearing in court where the Judge listens to the police officer, the District Attorney, and you attorney, the Judge will determine guilt. If found guilty, you will receive one of 5 levels of punishment. Level I is the most severe and Level 5 the least severe. NC DWI Levels I & II always result in active jail time, according to NC DWI laws. The jail time may range from 1 – 2 weeks all the way to 2 years for a level I NC DWI offense.

Factors That Determine Level of Punishment Most of the factors which are considered by the Judge in determining the Level of Punishment are the Grossly Aggravating Factors, Aggravating Factors, and Mitigating Factors.

• Grossly Aggravating Factors are the most serious conditions which occurred during the DWI arrest: A prior conviction for an offense involving impaired driving, driving while license was revoked, serious injury to another person caused by impaired driving, driving while impaired with a child under the age of 16 years

• Aggravating Factors increase the seriousness of the offense but are not considered quite as serious as Grossly aggravating factors. Factors that aggravate the seriousness of the DWI offense: BAC of .16, reckless driving, accident, DWLR, 2 prior driving convictions (6 points), of a motor vehicle offense, speeding while intoxicated, or passing a bus.

Important Information about

Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)

The things we eat and drink are passed directly into our bloodstream. When we drink an alcoholic beverage, molecules of alcohol pass through the stomach lining and mix in with our blood. This mixture of alcohol in the blood can be accurately measured. BAC stands for Blood Alcohol Content and this is a direct measurement of actual alcohol flowing with your blood through your body.

Around the world, BAC is recognized as the standard tool for setting a legal limit for intoxication while driving. A gallon of water and a gallon of blood weigh about the same. If you have .05 grams of alcohol in 100ml of blood, it

is the same as saying .05% of your blood is alcohol.

Extensive scientific study has determined the typical effects of alcohol depending on varying BAC levels. In other words, by obtaining your BAC, law enforcement can tell how drunk you are with fair accuracy. 

Average Effects of Blood Alcohol Content: Light to Moderate Drinkers




Reached after approximately one drink; feel warmth and relaxation.


Most people feel relaxed, talkative, and happy. Skin may flush.


First sizable changes begin to occur. Lightheartedness, giddiness, lowered inhibitions, and less control of thoughts may be experienced. Impaired concentration. Both restraint and judgment are lowered. Coordination may be slightly altered.


Judgment somewhat impaired; normal ability to make a rational decision about personal capabilities is effected, e.g., concerning driving ability. Impaired depth perception.


Definite impairment of muscle coordination and a slower reaction time; driving ability suspect. Legally impaired. Sensory feelings of numbness of cheeks and lips. Hands, arms, and legs may tingle and then feel numb. Reasoning impaired.


Clumsy; speech may become fuzzy. Clear deterioration of reaction time and muscle control.


Definite impairment of balance and movement; staggering and slowed speech.

Mood swings. Decreased libido. The equivalent of a half-pint of whiskey is in the bloodstream.


Motor and emotional control centers measurably affected; slurred speech, staggering, loss of balance, and double vision can be present. Impaired ability to understand what is happening. Memory blackout.


Lack of understanding of what is seen or heard; individual is confused or stuperous. Consciousness may be lost at this level, i.e., individual passes out. Bladder function impaired. Breathing and heart rate slowed down; death possible.

0.40 - 0.50

Usually unconscious; skin clammy. Heart rate lowered. Breathing slows and can stop altogether; death can result.



The level of .08 is chosen because by the time you reach a .08 BAC, your coordination is notably affected as you can see above. But at a .05, sedation and slowed reaction time are key effects on your body. These alone are enough to impact your driving. It is important to know that the effects of any amount of drinking are dependent on more than just the alcohol itself. You need to reconsider driving ANY time you've been drinking. Medication, the amount of food in your stomach, and how tired you are, may affect your ability to drive safely.

So what are the factors that determine how much alcohol winds up in your blood? How do you get to a .08 and what happens to you along the way? How long does it take for your BAC to go back down?

The Basics

There are two BAC charts, one for men and one for women. This is because the amount of body fat one has for a given weight affects how much alcohol makes it to the bloodstream. Alcohol is not absorbed by fatty tissue. In "normal healthy" people, women have more body fat than men. The alcohol has less body to work on and is more concentrated. 

What's a Standard Drink?

Most people do not realize how few drinks it takes to put them at risk of being arrested for drinking and driving. A standard drink in the United States is any drink that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol (about 0.6 fluid ounces or 1.2 tablespoons). Many people don’t know what counts as a standard drink and so they don’t realize how many standard drinks are in the containers in which these drinks are often sold.

BAC Charts are very general, but very good guides. There are a number of other factors which will alter the rate at which alcohol enters your blood and the rate at which it dissipates. In other words, you can slow down or speed up alcohol's effects, but you can't stop them. To understand the impact of these variables requires an understanding of how you get drunk in the first place.

The Factory Three key organs, the stomach, intestines, and liver dictate how quickly your BAC rises and lowers once you begin drinking. 

1. The Stomach absorbs alcohol into the blood through diffusion. But it does so more slowly than the intestines. The stomach has a valve at the end called the pyloric valve. When we eat food, this valve closes so the food can stay in the stomach for digesting (& slows down alcohol diffusion). So eating food can slow down the rise of your BAC level.

2. The Intestines are far more efficient at diffusing alcohol into your blood than your stomach. If you drink on an empty stomach, your pyloric valve is open and more of the alcohol reaches the intestine quicker. The intestine can

then diffuse more of it into your bloodstream quicker, thus raising your BAC more quickly.

3. The Liver eliminates the alcohol. It does so by producing an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase which metabolizes the alcohol (In chronic drinkers, the constant higher production of this enzyme tends to metabolize alcohol

more quickly, thus lowering their BAC more quickly. However, the proliferation of these same enzymes eventually begins to damage the liver). 95% of the alcohol you drink leaves your body this way. The rest is released in sweat, breath, saliva, urine, and even breast milk. For the average person, an average drink will take about an hour to leave your body. In BAC numbers, this would be lowering your BAC by .01 every 45 minutes or so.

Medications Alcohol is a depressant. If you take any other depressant drugs, the effects of alcohol can be multiplied up to 10 times. Your BAC will be the same, but the EFFECTS will be far stronger. It is very important to always follow instructions for all medications, not just prescribed medicine. Even aspirin or Tylenol can be harmful when mixed with alcohol.

Health If you are tired, or fatigued, you will achieve a higher BAC than if you are well-rested. Your liver will work more slowly when you are tired, and process your alcohol more slowly. Illness can lead to increased BAC levels because when we are sick, we are frequently dehydrated. With less water in our body, more of the alcohol can enter the blood quicker.