Strictest & Most Lenient DUI Laws by State

DUI laws
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Driving under the influence (DUI) imposes a major risk on society, as it is one of the leading causes for car accidents.

Therefore, it is important that all states take this matter seriously, enforcing strict DUI laws to safeguard the life of their citizens. More than 3,000 fatal crashes take place every month, leaving thousands of victims, either deceased or in need of hospitalization. Although states have enacted DUI laws, out of all the people that die in accidents, over 40% test positive for drugs and alcohol.

DUI’s Explained

DUI, the act of driving while toxic substances intoxicate such as prescription drugs, off-the-counter drugs and/or alcohol intoxicates your body, is an illegal activity. By having their minds clouded, reality distorted, and their perception of reality altered, drunk drivers are prone to making mistakes on the road ultimately leading to fatal crashes.

All states agree that drunk driving is illegal; however, the level of strictness or leniency of such DUI laws tend to differ quite a bit. Nevertheless, breathalyzer tests will be performed on everyone caught intoxicated behind the wheel, although the maximum value registered by these devices varies from state to state.

Blood Alcohol Concentrations

All states agree that having blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) at 0.08 or more is enough to issue an order for DUI, according to the DUI laws. Of course, laws and penalties for this illegal activity will vary from state to state and, as we will see later on, some states have the strictest DUI laws while others continue to have very lenient regulations.

When it comes to minors and commercial drivers, some states lower the bar to less than 0.08. Sometimes this crime can even be considered a Federal DUI. However, as of December, 2018, some states such as Utah have decided to lower the bar (in Utah, to 0.05).

Ignition Interlock Device

DUI laws in 24 U.S. states dictate that those arrested for the first time with a BAC of 0.08 or more shall have an an ignition interlock device installed in their cars. However, in 14 states these devices are only mandatory after being caught with a BAC of 0.15 or higher. In the remaining states, regulations are as follows:

  • in 7 states, these devices become mandatory for second-time offenders
  • in 6 states, devices are not mandatory in any case

States With The Strictest Laws On Dui

1. Arizona

According to several studies, the strictest state in the U.S. regarding DUI laws is certainly Arizona. It is one of the states mentioned above where first offenders with a BAC over 0.08 are compelled to install an ignition interlock device. However, Arizona is also the state where offenders are forced to use the device for the longest time – one year.

Furthermore, drivers will have to pay expensive fines (starting at 1,000 dollars), can even be expected to perform community service (if the judge deems it necessary) and, should the violation be extremely serious, it can also lead to that person having his or her license suspended for up to 1 year. Lastly, the judge can also decide to sentence first time offenders to a maximum of 10 days in prison, and second-time offenders to a maximum of 90 days.

2. Florida

Florida is the second state with the strictest DUI laws in the country. Similar to Arizona, first time offenders that test 0.08 or more in BAC will need to install the ignition interlock device, which means their car won’t start unless the breathalyzer test is taken and the result is negative.

Other penalties include driver’s license suspension for a minimum of 6 months, jail time for up to a year and fines of up to 2,000 dollars.

3. South Carolina

South Carolina has also passed severe DUI laws, as it has one of the highest mortality rates caused by drunk drivers. Having a BAC of 0.08 will lead to drivers having to install an ignition device that controls alcohol intake before starting the engine; however, a 0.16 BAC or higher will also entail a minimum of 30 days in prison.

Apart from the fact that fines can cost up to 2,000 dollars, DUI laws state that, if charged, drivers risk spending a minimum of 2 days in jail or community work —the decision pertains to the judge appointed to the case.

States With The Most Lenient Laws On Dui

1. Pennsylvania

The state regarded as the most lenient when it comes to DUI laws is Pennsylvania. In this case, if your BAC test results are of 0.10 or less, you have no chance of risking jail time, which is the penalty that scares people the most in other states. However, these drivers may be required to go through random alcohol and drug tests and possibly face 6-month mandatory probation.

What is more, unlike the strictest states, fines in Pennsylvania are set to a limit of $300, there is no possibility of getting your license suspended, and you will not have any sort of driving restriction.

2. Montana

One would think that the state with the highest percentage of fatal crashes due to drunk driving would have stricter DUI laws; however, Montana ranks in the lowest spots of that list. It has prohibited the circulation of drivers with open containers in the car and lowered the BAC limit to 0.08.

Nevertheless, in order for officers to charge offenders for driving under the influence, their BAC has to be of at least 0.16 (twice the legal limit). Naturally, 90% of the times these drivers don’t suffer any serious consequences.

3. Rhode Island

The case of Rhode Island is no different, as this state has some of the most lenient DUI laws in the United States. Surprisingly, drivers can choose and decide not to go through the BAC test, which means that most cases just go unnoticed. This happens mainly because the laws and penalties on the no-refusal sobriety test are not enforced correctly.

Additionally, although it is constitutionally correct, Rhode Island has stated that sobriety checkpoints are against their state laws.

Additional Information

State DUI laws are subject to federal laws regarding illegal activities. Therefore, if new guidelines at the federal level modify basic requirements that state DUI laws have to meet, states may need to pass new laws as well.

It is highly likely to get caught for a state DUI, although there are cases in which they can become a federal offense depending where they happen. Some examples of federal properties are: airports, national parks, post offices, military bases, parking lots and government premises, among a few others.

In conclusion, states do have some freedom to write their laws, although the minimum requirements for state laws are established by Federal authorities. However, when a DUI becomes federal, consequences can become quite severe.

Consequences Of Federal DUIs

Unlike state laws on DUI matters, federal penalties are the same regardless of where in the country they are applied. The main penalties when it comes to federal DUIs are:

  • Incarceration in federal prison for up to 6 months
  • Probation for up to 5 years
  • Fines of up to 5,000 dollars
  • Engine ignition control devices with a breathalyzer installed in the driver’s car for up to 5 years.

Other sanctions are available and vary from state to state. Charges may include implementing ignition blocking devices, driving courses, prison time, removal/suspension of your license, traffic tickets and/or community service.

Fighting A State DUI

Fighting DUI penalties is a right every citizen has regardless of the state, and you can do it on your own or with the help of a lawyer. You will be informed of the time and date for your courthouse hearing in which your case will be discussed. You will need to prove that you were accused without proper evidence. To increase your chances of success it’s always best to go prepared.

Gather all the documents you need and think answers to any potential question beforehand. Focus on defending your case by giving reasons as to why you are not a rightful recipient of the penalties stated by the DUI laws.

Hiring A Lawyer

While some cases are quite straightforward and easy, others require professional help. If you decide to get a lawyer, make sure you have chosen a criminal defense attorney (for state DUIs) and a federal criminal defense attorney (if your case has been ruled as federal), as not every lawyer can represent you in a federal court. They will explain the law, inform you of your rights and help prepare you for that day, as well as represent you in court.