DUI/DWI Laws in North Carolina

Learn about the penalties for a DUI / DWI conviction in North Carolina.

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The basic and “minimum” penalties are provided below. (Note North Carolina refers to the offense as a DWI.) However, North Carolina’s sentencing procedures for impaired drivers is complex (and explained below). There are five levels (with five being the least severe penalties) for each offense and each level has distinctive factors and standards.

What are the penalties for a DUI/DWI in North Carolina?

 

1st Offense

2nd offense

3rd Offense

Minimum Jail

24 hours (for level 5 offender) (however, if 3 aggravated factors are present -- Level 1A --  minimum of 12 months)

4 days jail (If 3 aggravated factors are present -- Level 1A --  minimum of 12 months.)

14-30 days jail (up to two years) (If 3 aggravated factors are present -- Level 1A --  minimum of 12 months.)

Fines and Penalties

$200 (for level 5 offendor)

Ranges depending on level

Ranges depending on level

License Suspension

 60 days to 1 year

1 to 4 years (if previous DWI was within 3 years)

1 year to permanent (if last previous was within 5 years)

IID* Required

None required

Required

If license restored, required for 7 years

Lookback Period:  usually 7 years but may vary as shown  (Period of time that prior DUIs are relevant for sentencing)

*Interlock Ignition Device

How much do you have to drink (BAC*) for a DUI/DWI in North Carolina?

Under 21

Zero tolerance

21 or older

.08

Commercial

.04

** BAC = blood alcohol content

How many drinks does it take? Check the BAC chart.

You may want to try our BAC Calculator, however I wouldn't let any results encourage you to drink and drive.

What if you refuse to take a chemical test in North Carolina?

North Carolina has an implied consent law. That means that if you refuse to submit to a chemical test you will be subject to a fine and automatic license suspension. Learn more about North Carolina’s implied consent law.

 

1st Offense

2d offense

3rd Offense

Refusal to take test

1 year license suspension

No statutory provision

No statutory provision

Disclaimer: We try to keep the information provided here up to date. However, laws often change, as do their interpretation and application. Different jurisdictions within a state may enforce the laws in different ways. For that reason, we recommended that you seek the advice of a local attorney familiar with DUI cases in your area.

Can you plead to a lesser offense than DWI/DUI?

No. Although such pleas were common in the 1980s and 1990s, a plea bargain, for example, of "wet reckless" will no longer be accepted by the prosecution in North Carolina. 

What is an SSR-22?

An SR-22 is a form filed by your insurance company demonstrating that you meet certain insurance requirements. Only an insurance company can furnish the SR-22. Often the SR-22 need only meet your state’s minimum liability standards. In some cases, however, certain individuals may be subject to insurance coverage requirements that have higher limits and different coverage. To learn more, see SR22 Requirements in North Carolina.

  • Class “F” Felony Habitual Impaired Driving (If Other Offenses Within 10 Years)
  • Imprisonment – 12 Months Minimum
  • License Suspension – Permanent Revocation if 3 Previous Were Within Last 7 Years
  • Ignition Interlock Device – Required for 7 Years if Restoration is Allowed
  • Substance Abuse Assessment / Treatment

Drinking and Driving Laws in North Carolina

The State of North Carolina prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle by any driver with a .08 percent or above blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The .08 percent limit is the standard benchmark across the United States for the "impaired" driver. North Carolina has lower limits for drivers under the age of 21 and commercial drivers. Minors that are convicted for driving with any amount of drugs or alcohol in their system will have their drivers license suspended for one year.

How many drinks does it take to reach the legal limit in North Carolina? It is difficult to estimate with any certainty how many drinks it takes to reach the .08 percentage limit. There are calculators and charts that can be used as a reference, however these tools do not always consider some of the variables that contribute to a BAC score. There have been studies that have shown that a persons BAC score could go up as much as .05 percent for each drink consumed, but this isn't the case with every driver.

The best answer is not to drink and drive. The State of North Carolina has strict laws for drunk driving, and when you drink and drive in North Carolina, you risk your freedom, finances and your future.

North Carolina Punishment Levels and DWI Factors

When considering penalties for a DWI in North Carolina one must understand the "Factors" involved.

Grossly Aggravating Factors

The grossly aggravating factors of a DWI in North Carolina present the most serious of aggravating circumstances involved in a DWI as it relates to punishment. If a driver is found to have 2 (TWO) of these grossly aggravating factors when arrested for a DWI they can expect a "Level One Punishment". If a driver has 1(One) grossly aggravating factor they can expect a "Level Two Punishment". If 3 aggravated factors are present -- Level 1A --  minimum of 12 months jail time (maximum 36 months)

These are the Grossly Aggravating Factors

  • Prior DWI Conviction Within 7 Years
  • DWI While License is Suspended for a Previous DWI
  • Serious Injury to Another Person While DWI
  • Child Under 18 in Vehicle While DWI

Level One Punishment

  • Jail – From 30 Days to 24 Months
  • Fine – Up to $4,000

Level Two Punishment

Level two punishment is applied to a North Carolina DWI conviction that has 1 (ONE) Grossly Aggravating Factor.

  • Jail – 7 Days to 12 Months
  • Fine – Up to $2,000

NC DWI Aggravating and Mitigating Factors

Aggravating and mitigating factors are the other two "Factors" involved in determining DWI punishment in North Carolina. Assuming there are no "Grossly Aggravating Factors" involved a judge is left to weigh the aggravating and mitigating factors to determine the fate of the convicted.

Aggravating Factors

  • Blood Alcohol Level of .15 or Above
  • Reckless Driving / Accident
  • Driver License Revoked
  • Prior Convictions for DWI
  • Speeding While Attempting to Elude Officers
  • Speeding 30 MPH Over the Legal Limit
  • Passing A School Bus Illegally

Mitigating Factors

  • Slight Impairment where test was unavailable
  • Safe Driving Record
  • Alcohol Concentration Did not Exceed .09
  • Driving Lawfully (except for impairment) at time of Offense
  • Impaired by Prescribed Dosage of Legal Medication
  • Voluntary Submission to Mental Heath Facility for Assessment

Learn more about North Carolina Aggravated DUI.

Back to the Punishment

Considering the aggravating and mitigating factors above the judge will apparently make a ruling on the DWI offender using the following outline:

  • If aggravating factors substantially outnumber mitigating factors the judge may punish the convicted using Level 3 (Three) Punishment.
  • If there are no aggravating or mitigating factors or the two factors are balanced the convicted may be sentenced to Level 4 (Four) Punishment.
  • If the mitigating factors substantially outnumber aggravating factors then the convicted may receive Level 5 (Five) Punishment.

Remember that this is just an outline of what MAY happen. I have gathered this information from the North Carolina General Assembly Website and you may read the source document in the LEGISLATION section.

Level Three Punishment

  • Jail – 72 Hours or,
  • Community Service – 72 Hours or,
  • Any Combination of Above
  • Fine – Up to $500

Level Four Punishment

  • Jail – 48 Hours or,
  • Community Service – 48 Hours or,
  • Any Combination of Above
  • Fine – Up to $500

Level Five Punishment

  • Jail – 24 Hours or,
  • Community Service – 24 Hours or,
  • Any Combination of Above
  • Fine – Up to $200

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