Skip to main content

The Basics of Drunk and Drugged Driving

4 min read

Legal Boulevard Square Logo

By Tim Lee

Drunk or drugged driving charges are serious legal matters. Learn about the basics of drunk and drugged driving and what your defense options might be.

Every state in the United States has laws that forbid drivers from operating a vehicle while they’re impaired. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that there are 1,001,329 driving while impaired arrests each year. That equates to a drunk or drugged arrest rate of one out every 227 licensed drivers in this country. The individuals who are arrested will face prosecution from the court that holds jurisdiction over the case.

Drunk or drugged driving cases come with a variety of penalties. These can impact every facet of a person’s life, including their social life and careers.

Drunk Driving

In all states except Utah, drivers can have a blood-alcohol concentration of up to .08% if they can legally consume alcohol. Utah reduced that limit to .05% for drivers who can legally drink alcohol.

All states have a “zero tolerance” policy for underage drunk driving. This means that drivers who are under 21 years old can’t have detectable alcohol in their blood.

Commercial drivers also have a lowered threshold for BAC. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration set the limit for commercial drivers at .04% nationwide. This is because commercial drivers often haul large loads or transport people, so they need to have a higher level of accountability than the general public.

Drugged Driving

While the blood-alcohol concentration tests can accurately gauge a person’s impairment from the alcohol, there aren’t any tests that can do this for drugs. Instead, the officers have to rely on other methods, such as the standardized field sobriety test, to determine whether the driver is too impaired to safely operate the vehicle or not.

One thing that many individuals don’t realize is that drugged driving can come from a variety of drugs. This includes illegal, prescription, and over-the-counter drugs. The key point that these have is that they negatively affect the ability of the person to drive a vehicle.

Narcotics, marijuana, allergy medications and similar drugs are associated with having a negative impact on driving abilities. Prescriptions and over-the-counter medications have warnings on them if there is a chance that they will cause drowsiness or similar side effects.

Tip: When starting a new medication, review the labels to know if you need to try taking a dose a few times to see if and how it affects you before you operate a motor vehicle.


Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

Implied Consent

When a person gets their driver’s license, they agree that they will be tested for drugs or alcohol if requested by an officer of the law. This is known as the implied consent law. Despite the agreement that’s implied, it’s possible to decline to provide permission for the test.

Refusing to give a sample for a chemical test comes with penalties. Typically, the person’s driver’s license will be suspended or revoked for a specific amount of time because they didn’t provide the sample.

It’s possible that a police officer could obtain a warrant that requires you to give the sample. If this occurs, you don’t have the option of declining to provide it. You could be restrained while the sample is obtained from you to satisfy the warrant.

Possible Penalties

The penalties for drunk or drugged driving depend on a host of variables. Typically, the most mild penalties come with a first charge, but those penalties increase with subsequent charges. Some of the possible penalties include:

The court will determine what’s appropriate for each case based on the specific circumstances. Some states have mandatory sentence requirements, so that will also play a role in what a person will face if convicted.

The charge, a conviction, and the penalties that a person is given can affect their future. For example, a drunk driving conviction could mean a job loss for a person who is required to have a clean driving record or who has to drive for work.

Matt Popovich/Unsplash

Defense Options

There are several defense options that an individual can use when they’re facing a drugged or drunk driving charge. The circumstances of the traffic stop and arrest may play a role in the options that are present.

Some defense options are affirmative defenses, which means that the defendant acknowledges that they were driving while impaired. Instead of just leaving it at that, they explain extenuating circumstances that they believe should negate the charges against them.

The majority of impaired driving defense options work to poke holes in the prosecution’s case. This might include questioning the calibration of the testing equipment or raising questions about the quality or timing of the sample. Bringing up civil rights violations and addressing the validity of the traffic stop or the arrest might also be useful. Most defenses will include multiple points.

Working closely with an attorney who focuses on this area of the law can help them to learn their options. Anyone who’s facing these charges should remember that they may also have to deal with the administrative penalties and not just the criminal charges, so their defense strategy should address both cases.

Legal Boulevard Square Logo

Tim Lee



How to Prepare for the Immigration Process Immigration

How to Prepare for the Immigration Process

The immigration process can be difficult to navigate. Learn what steps to take when preparing for your personal interview, naturalization test and medical exam. For many applicants, the immigration process is overwhelming and difficult to navigate. By taking the following steps to prepare, you can improve your chances of successfully achieving U.S. citizenship…

Read More about How to Prepare for the Immigration Process

5 min read

How to Determine If You Are Eligible for a Green Card Immigration

How to Determine If You Are Eligible for a Green Card

Determining eligibility for a green card can be complex. Discover eligible categories and which one might be the best fit for individuals or their families. For many people, obtaining a green card is an important milestone. It could be their first step on the road to working in the United States, joining a spouse or […]

Read More about How to Determine If You Are Eligible for a Green Card

5 min read

Class Action Lawsuits FAQ General

Class Action Lawsuits FAQ

Class action lawsuits let individuals join together to fight back against harm caused by corporations. Discover how class action lawsuits may pertain to you. Every day, deceptive business practices and outright on the part of corporations and other institutions cause physical and financial harm to individuals. Class action lawsuits give consumers the ability to fight back. Learn more […]

Read More about Class Action Lawsuits FAQ

5 min read

U.S. Immigration: How to Apply and What to Expect Immigration

U.S. Immigration: How to Apply and What to Expect

Explore the application process for U.S immigration. Learn about visa categories, eligibility requirements and information on visa approvals during COVID-19. Every year the U.S. Department of State issues immigration visas to family members, skilled workers and diversity immigrants. In 2019, the U.S. issued more than 450,000 immigrant visas to applicants across seven categories. There are different immigrant visas in […]

Read More about U.S. Immigration: How to Apply and What to Expect

4 min read