Driving under the influence, or DUI, refers to when a person operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of a mind-altering substance. This substance can be anything that is known to impair a person’s motor skills. Although alcohol is the most common example of such a substance, other examples include:
- Illicit or illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, PCP, etc.;
- Prescription medications such as painkillers, sleep aides, muscle relaxers, etc.; and
- Over the counter medicines that cause impairment, specifically antihistamines.
Some states maintain different classifications for different types of DUIs, such as alcohol, illegal drugs, or over the counter medicine. Other terms for DUI can include:
Because of how dangerous it is to drive under the influence of an intoxicant, states will generally enforce considerably strict penalties for drivers who have been found to violate DUI laws. Such punishments are intended to deter people from violating impaired driving laws, in an effort to avoid potentially placing other drivers in danger.
Can I Get a DUI If I Am Driving Something Other Than a Car?
Simply put, yes, you can get a DUI if you are operating any sort of motor vehicle while intoxicated. State DUI laws can significantly differ from each other. Generally speaking, it is possible to get a DUI for operating some of the following vehicles:
- Lawn mower;
- Other farm equipment;
- Golf cart; and
- Horse or horse-drawn carriage.
There is generally a separate law for Boating Under the Influence (BUI), or, operating a boat or other water vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant. The federal government, as well as most states, have enacted laws intended to stop boats and other watercraft from being operated while under the influence. Local law enforcement organizations as well as the Coast Guard enforce BUI laws. These rules apply to all boats in U.S. waters, and U.S. vessels on the high seas.
To reiterate, DUI laws will vary from state to state. In general, many state DUI laws prohibit either the operation of a “vehicle” or a “motor vehicle” while intoxicated, or while under the influence of drugs. This is important to note because how a vehicle is defined can also vary. The law itself may not specify the exact definition of “motor vehicle” and “vehicle.” Because of this, it is the discretion of each individual court to determine whether what the driver was operating would constitute a “vehicle” and would then be subject to DUI laws.
Generally speaking, if the vehicle is motorized and/or has a drive train, a driver may get a DUI for operating it while under the influence of a substance that impairs their ability to operate the vehicle. This includes mopeds, as previously mentioned, and even bicycles. This would include instances in which the bike is not being pedaled at the time when the officer pulls the driver over.
However, this definition would not usually include a skateboard. If the vehicle is not motor-powered, it is unlikely that someone would get a DUI for operating them while under the influence. An example of this would be riding a horse, or roller-skates.
Do The Penalties Change Based On the Type Of Vehicle Being Operated?
Once again, DUI laws vary from state to state; penalties vary as well. A state may impose lesser charges if the driver gets a DUI while on a bicycle or other vehicle as opposed to a car. Additionally, the penalties will change based on whether the crime is being charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, which again varies by state.
In most states, a first time offense with a BAC level of 0.08% would be charged as a misdemeanor, or the state’s equivalent. If convicted, the driver will usually be ordered to pay fines, and spend a short amount of time in a county jail. The court could also require that the defendant:
- Attend mandatory alcohol treatment and education courses, such as Alcoholics Anonymous;
- Complete a set number of community service hours; and/or
- Use an ignition interlock device, such as a breathalyzer, for a set amount of time.
Some states may allow the defendant to have their criminal record expunged of the misdemeanor if they have no further legal issues for a set amount of time following their conviction.
However, some states will still punish a first time offense as a felony crime, due to the fact that driving under the influence of an intoxicant is seriously dangerous to multiple parties. If the driver’s BAC level is above a certain percentage, they will receive a much more serious charge.
Another factor would be if the drunk driver caused an accident resulting in serious bodily injury or even death to another person. In such circumstances, there may be additional separate criminal charges filed against the driver.
Felony DUI consequences generally include a prison sentence, as opposed to a county jail sentence. Reoffenders could face up to ten years in prison, while those with intoxication manslaughter or similar charges will most likely face an even lengthier prison sentence. Fines will increase in comparison to those of a misdemeanor DUI charge, and the driver’s license could be permanently revoked.
How Do Police Test For Intoxication During a DUI Stop?
A police officer must prove that they had probable cause to pull over a person and then test them for driving under the influence of any intoxicant. This would usually be someone swerving while driving, or running a stop sign or red light.
Some examples of the most common police tests for sobriety after a traffic stop include, but may not be limited to:
- Field Sobriety Tests: The officer asks the driver to step out of their vehicle and perform a series of actions, intended to test their balance and agility. These actions are what allow the officer to observe and draw conclusions about the driver’s potential impairment from a substance;
- Chemical Breath Test: This is most commonly accomplished through the use of a breathalyzer device, which measures the concentration of alcohol in a person’s system; and/or
- Blood or Urine Test: These tests are not generally administered at the site of a traffic stop, but rather when a person has already been arrested and taken to the police station. A medical professional is required to collect the driver’s specimen. A lab will test the specimen in order to determine whether any substances are present, and at what level of concentration.
It is important to note that every state has some version of implied consent. It is sometimes included on the back of your driver’s license. In exchange for receiving your driver’s license, you consent to future chemical testing upon arrest or investigation for a DUI. You may refuse to take the tests; however, you could be subject to additional penalties and fines if you do so, depending on your state’s specific laws.
Do I Need an Attorney If I Am Being Charged With a DUI?
If you are being charged with a DUI, you should immediately consult with an experienced and local DUI/DWI lawyer. Because state laws vary in terms of what constitutes a DUI and how the offense is punished, you should work with an area attorney, as they will be best suited to helping you understand your state’s specific laws.
An experienced DUI/DWI attorney will be able to determine if there are any legal defenses available to you based on the specifics of your case. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.