North Carolina DWI Laws

North Carolina DWI Laws

Drunk driving―or “driving while impaired” (DWI) in North Carolina―is a serious offense that not only can drain your bank account, take away your freedom, and crush your reputation―it also can seriously injure and even kill.

North Carolina DWI Defined

North Carolina’s Safe Roads Act of 1983 did away with all of the state’s previous drug- and alcohol-related driving laws and put everything under a single offense―driving while impaired, or DWI.

Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the most common way NC determines whether you’re legally impaired.

  • 21 years old or Older: 0.08%
  • Commercial drivers (CDL): 0.04%
  • Younger than 21: Any alcohol concentration
  • Prior DWI: 0.04% *

The state also looks at whether your physical or mental fitness is provably impaired by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both.

* If you have a prior DWI conviction and license reinstatement, you can’t drive with a BAC of 0.04% or higher; however, this can depend on your driving record and whether you were charged and convicted after July, 1, 2001.

Additional Drug and Alcohol Crimes

In addition to driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, NC DWI laws prohibit:

  • Having an open container in the vehicle if the driver is or has been consuming alcohol.
  • Having an open or closed container in the passenger area of a commercial motor vehicle.
  • Helping someone younger than 21 years old obtain alcohol. This includes buying or giving them alcohol, or lending an ID so they can buy alcohol.

Understand Your DWI Penalties

NC DWI penalties are serious business. Based on your age, the offense number, and your license type, you face penalties like:

  • Fines, including court costs and lawyer fees.
  • License suspension or revocation.
  • Jail time. For some offenses, the jail time is mandatory rather than possible.
  • Community service.
  • Higher car insurance rates.

Depending on your situation, you might also enroll in an alcohol safety school or substance abuse assessment program.

You will also face penalties from the North Carolina Department of Transportation. These are known as Administrative penalties and are in addition to any criminal or court penalties you may face.

Administrative DWI Penalties:

With Administrative penalties you may have your driver’s license suspended when you are charged with a DWI, not convicted. This includes failing a chemical test or refusing a chemical test. If you fail a chemical test you will have your license suspended:

  • 1st offense: 1 year.
  • 2nd offense: 4 years (eligible for a hearing after 2 years).
  • 3rd offense: Permanent (eligible for a hearing after 3 years).

If you refuse a chemical test you will have your driver’s license revocation for a minimum of 30 days while you are given the option of a hearing. If you chose to accept a hearing you must contact the Division of Motor Vehicles at (919) 715-7000 to schedule a hearing.

If you are found guilty you will your have your license suspended for 1 year.

Criminal DWI Penalties:

Younger than 21 years old

If you’re younger than 21 years old and caught doing any of the following, you’ll lose your license for a pretrial period of 30 days, and then 1 year thereafter:

  • Operating a motor vehicle with any measurable amount of alcohol in your system.
  • Purchasing or attempting to purchase alcohol.
  • Helping someone else purchase alcohol.
  • Using a fraudulent driver’s license or ID, or other falsified document to purchase alcohol.
  • Using someone else’s driver’s license or ID to purchase alcohol.

Your judge will inform you of additional penalties, such as fines, court costs, and possible community service.

21 years old and older

NC DWI penalties are based on your “level,” and your judge uses mitigating factors to determine your level. Factors include your BAC, prescription medications, your current driving record, and other aspects of your DWI situation and overall driving history.

North Carolina DWI Levels

Level 5

  • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Up to a $200 fine.
  • Between 24 hours and 60 days in jail. (Your judge might suspend your sentence to 24 hours of imprisonment or 24 hours of community service as part of probation.)
  • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

Level 4

  • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Up to a $500 fine.
  • Between 48 hours and 120 days in jail. (Your judge might suspend your sentence to 48 hours of imprisonment or 48 hours of community service as part of probation.)
  • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

Level 3

  • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Up to a $1,000 fine.
  • Between 72 hours and 6 months in jail. (Your judge might suspend your sentence to 72 hours of imprisonment or 72 hours of community service as part of probation.)
  • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

Level 2

  • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Up to a $2,000 fine.
  • Between 7 days and 12 months in jail. (Your judge might suspend your sentence to 90 days of abstaining from alcohol, which the court will monitor.)
  • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

Level 1

  • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Up to a $4,000 fine.
  • Between 30 days and 24 months in jail. (Your judge might give you 10 days under probation cases involving alcohol monitoring for 120 days.)
  • Substance abuse assessment, if you’re placed on probation.

Aggravated Level 1

  • Immediate license suspension for 30 days, with the possibility of limited driving privileges after 10 days.
  • Up to a $10,000 fine.
  • Between 12 months and 36 months in jail. (Your judge might give you 120 days under probation cases involving alcohol monitoring for a minimum of 120 days.)
  • Monitored abstaining from alcohol for 4 months after prison release.
  • Substance abuse assessment.