Washington D.C. Drunk and Drugged Driving Laws and Penalties

Learn about the penalties for first, second, and third OWI/DUI in the District of Columbia.

Washington D.C. has a number of laws prohibiting intoxicated driving. The three main categories are:

  • operating while impaired by drugs or alcohol (OWI)
  • driving while intoxicated (DWI), and
  • driving while under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol.

D.C. also criminalizes impaired operation of watercraft and horse-drawn vehicles, but the penalties for these offenses are less severe.

Actual driving (a car in motion) isn't a requirement for any of the three offenses—the motorist just needs to be in "actual physical control" of the vehicle.

Impairment. An OWI conviction requires proof only that the driver's ability to operate is notably affected by drugs or alcohol. The required proof of impairment is lower for an OWI than for a DUI (described below).

Under the influence. Proving a driver was under the influence requires evidence that he or she is less able to exercise the clear judgement necessary for operation of a vehicle.

Intoxication. The District of Columbia considers a person to be intoxicated if he or she has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or greater (get an estimate of how many drinks it takes). The driver of a commercial vehicle will be considered intoxicated with a BAC of .04% or more. And a driver who's under the age of 21 years old is considered intoxicated with any measurable amount of alcohol.

Washington D.C. DUI/DWI Penalties

The judge will determine the jail time and/or fines for a drunk or drugged driving offense within the statutory limitations. These limitations depend on the circumstances of the offense and the number of prior DUI or OWI convictions within the last 15 years. DUIs and DWI—the more serious of the offenses—carry the same penalties.

1st Offense

2nd Offense

3rd Offense


Up to 180 days

10 days to 1 year

15 days to 1 year



$2,500 to $5,000

$2,500 to $10,000

Elevated BAC. Drivers with a BAC of at least .20% will serve an additional five days mandatory jail time. Drivers with a BAC of at least .25% will serve an additional ten days mandatory jail time. And drivers with a BAC of at least .30% will serve an additional 15 days mandatory jail time.

Illicit drugs. A driver who had any amount of a schedule I controlled substances, such as heroin or cocaine, in his or her system will receive an additional ten days of mandatory jail.

Washington D.C. OWI Penalties

The penalties for the lower-standard OWI will likewise be determined by the judge pursuant to statutory guidelines.

1st Offense

2nd Offense

3rd Offense


Up to 90 days jail

5 days to 1 year

10 days to 1 year



$1,000 to $2,500

$1,000 to $5,000

Driver's License Revocation

A driver convicted of an OWI, DWI, or DUI will have his or her license restricted by the department. The driver must install and maintain an ignition interlock device (IID) for:

  • six months for a first offense
  • one year for a second offense, and
  • two years for a third offense.

A third offense that occurs within five years of the priors will also result in a five-year license revocation. Any offense that involves bodily injury, death, or a felony will result in permanent license revocation.

Implied Consent

D.C.'s implied consent law states all drivers are deemed to have consented to a test of their breath, blood, or urine to determine the presence of alcohol or drugs. A driver who unlawfully refuses a test will be subject to a 12-month driver's license revocation.

The refusal can also be used against the driver in a DUI trial. If the driver had a prior DUI conviction, a test refusal creates a presumption that the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Penalties Applicable to OWIs, DWIs, and DUIs

Commercial drivers. Commercial vehicle drivers convicted of an OWI, DWI, or DUI must serve five days imprisonment in addition to any other penalties.

Substance abuse treatment. A second-offense OWI, DWI, or DUI requires the offender to complete an alcohol and drug evaluation and to comply with any recommended treatment programs.

Vehicle impoundment. For any alcohol offense, the driver's vehicle will be impounded for 24 hours after the arrest.

Minor passengers. An OWI, DWI, or DUI offender will face additional penalties if he or she had a minor passenger at the time of the offense. The driver will receive an additional $500 to $1,000 fine and a mandatory five days in jail for each minor in the vehicle. The jail penalty becomes ten days per child if the children are not properly restrained.

Diversions and Plea Agreements

Although DUI charges carry serious penalties, many options exist to reduce or eliminate the consequences. The prosecutor may offer a diversion agreement, wherein the parties make a contract whereby the driver completes a series of requirements (treatment, community service, and payment of fees) and the charges are dismissed. D.C. does not prohibit pleading down a DUI to a lesser offense, such as reckless driving. Meet with a licensed attorney to discuss these and other options.

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