North Carolina Drunk Driving Laws

When is a Driver Considered to be Legally Drunk in North Carolina?

  • Non-commercial drivers age 21+ are considered legally drunk when their blood alcohol level is .08 or more.
  • Drivers of commercial vehicles are legally drunk when their blood alcohol concentration is .04 percent or greater. In North Carolina, school bus drivers are commercial drivers.
  • Drivers under 21 are legally drunk when their blood alcohol level is
    .01 or more.

Sentencing Procedures for DWI in North Carolina

After a person is convicted of driving while impaired (DWI) in North Carolina, a judge is required to hold a sentencing hearing to determine whether there are any aggravating or mitigating factors that might affect the sentence to be imposed.

At the sentencing hearing, the judge must first determine whether there are any “grossly aggravating” factors in the case. Grossly aggravating factors include:

  • A prior DWI conviction within seven years of the current offense;
  • Commission of the offense while the offender’s driver’s license was revoked for a previous DWI;
  • Causing serious injury to another person because of the offender’s impairment; and
  • Commission of the offense while a child under 16 was in the vehicle.

If the judge finds that two or more grossly aggravating factors apply, the judge must impose Level One punishment. If the judge finds that one aggravating factor applies, the judge must impose Level Two punishment.

If there are no grossly aggravating factors in the case, the judge must weigh all “aggravating” and “mitigating” factors. Aggravating factors include:

  • Gross impairment of the offender’s faculties while driving with a BAC of .16 or more;
  • Especially reckless or dangerous driving;
  • Negligent driving that led to a reportable accident;
  • Driving while the offender’s license was revoked;
  • Speeding while fleeing or attempting to elude apprehension;
  • Speeding by at least 30 miles per hour over the legal limit;
  • Passing a stopped school bus; and
  • Any other factor that aggravates the seriousness of the offense.

After the judge determines aggravating factors, he or she must then weigh “mitigating” factors. Mitigating factors include:

  • Slight impairment with a BAC that did not exceed .09;
  • Driving at the time of the offense that was safe and lawful, except for the impairment;
  • A safe driving record;
  • The offender’s voluntary submission to a mental health facility for assessment after being charged with DWI and, if recommended by the facility, the offender’s voluntary participation in the recommended treatment; and
  • Any other factor that mitigates the seriousness of the offense.

If the judge determines that the aggravating factors substantially outweigh any mitigating factors, the offender is subject to Level Three punishment. If the judge determines that there are no aggravating or mitigating factors or that the aggravating factors are substantially counterbalanced by the mitigating factors, the offender is subject to Level Four punishment. If the mitigating factors substantially outweigh any aggravating factors, the offender is subject to Level Five punishment.

Levels of Punishment

  • Level One Punishment. A Level One offender faces 30 days to 24 months in prison and may also be fined up to $4,000.
  • Level Two Punishment. A Level Two offender faces seven days to 12 months in prison and may also be fined up to $2,000.
  • Level Three Punishment. A Level Three offender faces 72 hours to six months in prison and may also be fined up to $1,000.
  • Level Four Punishment. A Level Four offender faces 48 hours to 120 days in prison and may also be fined up to $500.
  • Level Five Punishment. A Level Five offender faces 24 hours to 60 days in prison and may also be fined up to $200.

Driver’s License Revocation Periods

  • All persons charged with DWI who have a BAC of 0.08 or more, 0.04 if commercial motor vehicle, or under age 21 and the results are above 0.04, will have their license revoked immediately for 30 days. There is a limited driving privilege available after 10 days. Upon conviction of DWI for first offense, the license is revoked for one year. A limited driving privilege may be granted by the judge, but only if the driver did not hurt anyone, did not have a child under sixteen years of age in the car at the time of the drunk driving, and the driver obtains a substance abuse assessment. In order to have a license restored at the end of one year, the driver must go to treatment or school as recommended by the assessment.
  • Upon conviction of a second offense within three years, the revocation is four years.

Ignition Interlock

An offender whose license was revoked because of a DWI conviction where the offender had a BAC of .16 or more or an offender had been convicted of a previous DWI within seven years of the current offense will be required to use an ignition interlock system. If the original revocation period was one year, the offender is required to use the system for one year from the date that his or her license is restored. If the original revocation period was four years, the offender is required to use the system for three years from the date that his or her license is restored. If the original revocation was a permanent revocation and the permanent revocation was lifted, the offender will be required to use an ignition interlock system for seven years from the date of restoration.

Commercial Drivers

In addition to other penalties associated with North Carolina’s DWI laws, a commercial driver who is convicted of DWI while operating any vehicle will be disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle for one year. If, however, however, the offender was driving a commercial vehicle and transporting hazardous materials at the time, the disqualification period is three years. If a commercial driver is convicted of a second DWI while operating any vehicle, the offender will be disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle for life with the possibility of reinstatement after 10 years. If, however, the offender is convicted of driving a commercial vehicle while impaired for a third time, the disqualification period is for life without the possibility of reinstatement after 10 years.

School Bus, School Activity Bus, or Child Care Vehicle Operators

In addition to other penalties associated with North Carolina’s DWI and commercial vehicle DWI laws, a person who operates a school bus, school activity bus, or child care vehicle after consuming alcohol or if the person drives while consuming alcohol or while alcohol remains in the person’s body faces one to 10 days of community punishment and a $200 fine.

Penalties for Underage DWI

Underage DWI is a Class 2 misdemeanor. A first offense is punishable by one to 30 days of community punishment, and the offender may also be required to pay a fine of up to $1,000. Second, third, fourth, and fifth offenses are punishable by one to 45 days of community, intermediate, or active punishment. A judge may, however, punish the underage offender under the DWI laws applicable to adult offenders.

What is North Carolina’s Dram Shop Statute?

Under this law, a person who is injured because of the actions of an impaired driver under 21 can file suit for damages against the drinking establishment that served the minor if the sale was negligent; if the minor’s consumption of alcohol caused or contributed to the minor’s impairment; and if the injury was caused by the minor’s negligent operation of a vehicle while the minor was impaired. Under this statute, evidence of negligence includes the bar’s failure to request identification from the minor. This law prohibits the minor driver and the person who served the underage minor from filing a claim for damages. The total amount of damages that may be awarded to all injured parties is $500,000. North Carolina permits an injured party to bring a claim under its common law, but prohibits a double recovery for the same injury under this statute.

Criminal Penalties for Selling or Providing Liquor to a Person Under 21

In North Carolina, it is illegal for a person to sell or provide alcohol to a person under 21. A first offense subjects the offender to one to 45 days of community punishment and a fine to be determined by a judge. A second, third, fourth, or fifth violation subjects the offender to one to 45 days of active punishment, which may include incarceration. At a minimum, the law requires first-time offenders to pay a fine of at least $250 and complete at least 25 hours of community service. If a person has a previous conviction in the four years preceding the date of the current offense, the offender must pay a fine of at least $500 and complete at least 150 hours of community service.

Need more information on state laws? Learn more about the laws where you live.

Note: Our attorneys are licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia. This information is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia, although if you are injured in an accident, we have relationships with other personal injury attorneys and lawyers throughout the United States.

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