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DUI/DWI Basics

Everyone knows that drunk driving is both illegal and dangerous. However, many people don’t think twice about running out to a bar or a party, having a few drinks, and then getting behind the wheel of a car. Is that safe? No matter how sober you feel, probably not! First of all, even a few drinks can definitely impair your driving ability. Secondly, consuming any alcohol at all before you get behind the wheel can easily put you on the wrong side of one or another of New York’s impaired driving laws.

New York has a couple of different charges that can be used to prosecute people for drinking and driving. The least serious is DWIA, “driving while impaired by alcohol.” If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is between .06 to .07% or you display evidence of impairment but aren’t quite “buzzed” enough to be considered intoxicated yet, you can be charged with DWIA. DWIA is a traffic offense, not a full-blown misdemeanor. Although the penalties are less devastating that a driving while intoxicated charge would be, a DWIA charge is still a huge, costly inconvenience.

A more serious charge is “driving while intoxicated” or DWI. You can be charged with a New York DWI if you are caught driving a car with a BAC of .08 or higher, or if you the officer who stops you believes that you are intoxicated. DWI is a not just a traffic offense, it is a criminal misdemeanor.

If you are under 21, technically you should not be drinking at all. So, New York has a “Zero Tolerance Law” set aside just for you. Under the Zero Tolerance law, you can lose your license for six months if your BAC is between .02% and .05%. That means just one drink your license is gone if you get behind the wheel.

There are other, more serious driving-and-alcohol related charges that you can receive if you hurt someone or cause an accident while drunk, or if you have a very high BAC.

What happens if you get convicted of a DWI charge in New York? A lot of things happen, and most of them are bad. For starters, there are the fines. For a first offense, you’ll pay between $500-$1000 in fines. There is also the unpleasant possibility of jail time-up to a year, depending on the circumstances. Finally, you will lose your driver’s license for at least 6 months and have to pay the DMV to get it back. Even worse, your vehicle could be confiscated by the government permanently through the civil forfeiture procedure, since when you drive it drunk it becomes the “instrument of a crime.”

Fines, penalties and jail time naturally become harsher if you violate the law again. For example, if you get another DWI within the next 5 years, the amount you will be fined increases to $1000-$5000. You will either go to jail for 5 days or you will be assigned 30 days of community service. You could even get 4 years in prison! Also, you will lose your license for at least a year.


If you get another offense within the next 10 years, you won’t have mandatory jail time or community service but you could still serve up to 4 years in prison. Other than that, fines and penalties are the same for as they are for a second offense within 5 years. If you keep drinking and driving after that, you’ll be looking at more jail time, more fines, an ignition interlock device on your vehicle if you are allowed to get your license back, and more.

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