How Does North Carolina Define Driving While Impaired?

North Carolina law makes driving while impaired (DWI) illegal. If a motorist drives while intoxicated or impaired, he or she could face a criminal conviction. Intoxicated drivers may also be personally liable in a civil court.

Have you suffered an injury in a car accident caused by an impaired or drunk driver? If so, Arnold & Smith, PLLC may be able to help. Our car accident attorneys have helped personal injury clients receive damages in drunk driving accidents. Contact our office with locations in Charlotte, Monroe and Mooresville today to schedule your free initial consultation.

What Constitutes Driving While Impaired (DWI) in North Carolina?

Some states refer to the criminal charges for drunk driving as driving while under the influence (DUI). North Carolina defines a criminal drunk driving charge as driving while under the influence (DWI). Under North Carolina law, a person commits a DWI when he or she does one or more of the following:

  • Operates a vehicle on a public highway, street, or public vehicular area with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more, or
  • Operates a motor vehicle while drugs, alcohol or a combination of alcohol and drugs impair his or her physical or mental abilities even if the drivers BAC is under .08%, or
  • Operates a commercial vehicle on a public highway, street, or vehicular area with a BAC of .04% or above.
What are the Consequences for DWI in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, the severity of the penalty for DWI depends on the DWI level. North Carolina defines DWIs into five different categories. Aggravated Level 1 DWIs are the most serious, while Level 5 DWIs are the least serious. Factors outlined in North Carolina's DWI statute determine the level of the DWI. Judges analyze aggravating factors, grossly aggravating factors, and mitigating factors to determine the appropriate DWI level.

Grossly Aggravating DWI Factors
  • A prior DWI conviction within the past seven years
  • A DWI conviction occurred after the current offense happened but before the sentencing
  • Driving while intoxicated with a child age 18 or younger in the car
  • A car accident resulted in a severe injury while the defendant was driving while intoxicated
  • Police arrested the defendant with a suspended license for a prior DWI offense
North Carolina Aggravating DWI Factors
  • Driving dangerously or recklessly
  • Driving with a BAC of .15%
  • The driver’s facilities were grossly impaired
  • Driving with a revoked license
  • Speeding while attempting to avoid arrest
  • The defendant has two or more prior traffic violations that are not-DWI related and cost three DWI points
  • Negligent driving that led to an accident
  • Driving at least 30 miles per hour over the posted speed limit
North Carolina Mitigating Factors
  • The driver had a BAC of .09% while driving
  • The driver had a slight impairment of his or her faculties due to drugs or alcohol while driving
  • The driver drove safely and was following the law other than driving while intoxicated
  • Other than driving while intoxicated, the driver had a safe driving record and never received a traffic offense equating to four points or higher
  • The defendant voluntarily admitted himself or herself to a mental health facility after his or her DWI charge
  • The defendant completed a substance abuse evaluation and complied with all recommendations
Level 5 DWI in North Carolina

Defendants who are convicted of a level 5 DWI face up to a $200 fine along with a jail sentence ranging from 24 hours to 60 days. The defendant must have no aggravating factors. Any mitigating factors must substantially outweigh any aggravating factors.

Level 4 DWI

In a level 4 DWI, the judge must find that no grossly aggravating factors existed. The judge must also find that the aggravating factors balance any mitigating factors. Defendants convicted of a level 4 DWI face a maximum fine of $500 and a maximum jail sentence of 120 days.

Level 3 DWI

A judge must rule that no grossly aggravating factors existed. They must also find that the aggravating factors substantially outweighed the mitigating factors. Defendants face a fine of up to $1000 and up to six months of jail time.

Level 2 DWI

The judge must find at least one grossly aggravating factor in a level 2 DWI. The judge will not weigh any mitigating or aggravating factors. Defendants face a maximum jail sentence of up to 12 months and a fine of up to $2000.

Level 1 DWI

Defendants convicted of a level 1 DWI face a fine of up to $4000 and a jail sentence of up to 24 months. A judge must find that two grossly aggravating factors occurred or that the driver had a passenger under the age of 18 in the car.

We can Help

If you have suffered an injury in a drunk driving car accident, we can help. Contact Arnold & Smith Attorneys at Law to schedule your free initial consultation.

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