In New York, it is illegal to drive when impaired or intoxicated by alcohol or drugs. Driving while intoxicated by alcohol, or impaired by drugs, may be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. Drivers impaired by alcohol, but not intoxicated, may be charged with a violation. The criminal charges and penalties a driver may face depend on a number of factors, including:
- The driver's age
- Whether the driver was impaired by alcohol, drugs or a combination of both
- The type of driver's license (a regular license, commercial driver's license, or suspended license)
- Whether the driver submitted to a chemical test, such as a breathalyzer test or a blood or urine test
- Whether there was a child in the vehicle
- Whether anyone was injured or killed
- The driver's criminal history
Driving While Intoxicated or Driving While Ability Impaired
You may hear the terms "driving under the influence" (DUI) or drunk driving, but in New York, the legal term is Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). Drivers may be found guilty of DWI if their blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08 or higher, or Aggravated DWI if their BAC is .18 or greater. The standards are even stricter for drivers of commercial motor vehicles. A commercial vehicle driver can be charged with DWI if his or her BAC is .04 or higher.
Drivers may be found guilty of the lesser, but still serious, charge of Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI) if they have a BAC above .05 but below .08.
New York is a "zero tolerance" state for underage drinking and driving. A driver under 21 whose BAC is below the legal limit for DWAI can still face penalties. Underage drivers who are not charged with DWI or DWAI, but who have a BAC over .02, will be referred to the Department of Motor Vehicles for administrative discipline. While this is not a crime, it still carries serious license ramifications.
Driving While Ability Impaired by Drugs (DWAI/Drugs)
Drivers may also be charged with impaired driving if they drive under the influence of drugs (DWAI/Drugs) or under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs (DWAI/Combined).
It is not just illegal drugs that can potentially result in DWAI charges. It is also illegal to drive under the influence of prescription or over-the-counter medications if those drugs impair a driver's ability to drive safely.
Penalties for DWI and DWAI in New York
Potential penalties for impaired driving include fines, jail time, and license suspension or revocation. A first-time DWAI/Alcohol conviction carries penalties of a $300-500 fine, up to 15 days in jail, and a 90-day license suspension.
A first-time DWI, DWAI/Drugs or DWAI/Combination conviction includes penalties of up to a $1,000 fine, 1 year in local jail, and a six-month license revocation.
Impaired and intoxicated driving penalties increase with each subsequent offense. For example, the penalties for a third DWI or DWAI-Drug conviction within ten years include a fine of up to $10,000, up to 7 years in prison, and a one-year license revocation.
If a driver refuses to take a breathalyzer, blood or urine test, he or she may face a $500 fine and a minimum one-year license revocation, even if the driver ultimately gets found not guilty after a trial, or the criminal charges are dismissed.
Certain impaired driving convictions also require the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) on any vehicle the convicted person owns or operates. The driver must blow into the device before turning on the vehicle, and if the driver's BAC is above .025, the engine won't start.
More Severe Intoxicated Driving Crimes
Aggravated DWI is a more severe driving crime. A person may be found guilty of aggravated DWI if (i) they are found to have a .18 or higher BAC, a misdemeanor, or (ii) there is a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle, a felony under "Leandra's Law." The penalty for a misdemeanor aggravated DWI is a $1,000-$2,500 fine, up to 1 year in jail and at least a one-year license revocation. The penalty for a felony aggravated DWI is up to four years in prison.
Parents, guardians or others who are legally responsible for a child and are charged with DWI while their child is in the car are reported to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment, even if they are not charged with a felony under Leandra's Law.
If the driver's impairment results in injuries or death, the driver could be charged with even more serious crimes, such as vehicular assault or vehicular manslaughter. In addition, under Leandra's Law, impaired drivers who cause serious injury to or death of a child under 16 may face 15 or more years in prison.
Loss of Driving Privileges
Depending on the seriousness of the impaired or intoxicated driving crime, a person's license may be suspended or revoked. The key difference between a suspension and a revocation is that after a license suspension, a driver's license will be returned. If his or her license is revoked, the driver will need to apply for a new license after the revocation period.
Drivers are not permitted to drive while their license is suspended or revoked. However, in some circumstances, drivers may be able to apply for a conditional license. This gives drivers temporary (or "conditional") driving privileges under certain circumstances. This option is most often available to first-time offenders who agree to attend the Impaired Driver Program (IDD).
Additional Consequences of DWI, DWAI and Other Impaired Driving Crimes
in 2012, New York's Department of Motor Vehicles enacted new regulations for multiple alcohol/drugged-driving convictions. Someone with three or four convictions can, under certain circumstances, be permanently denied a driver's license.
In addition to fines, potential jail time and the loss of driving privileges, an impaired or intoxicated driving conviction is likely to stay on your criminal record for a very long time. This can make it difficult to get a new job or a loan, can affect a college student's scholarships, and can negatively affect family and personal relationships.
You may face the loss of your professional license (law, medical, pilots, etc.), and your car insurance premiums are likely to increase dramatically for years. If you are involved in a custody dispute, an impaired or intoxicated driving conviction could potentially be used against you to attempt to demonstrate that you are a less fit parent.
At Frost & Kavanaugh, we understand that a drunk driving arrest can put your entire future at risk. And, we know how to help. Often, we can obtain a reduction in the charge, get you the lowest possible fine, and help you keep your license. And if not, we're ready to take your matter to trial if necessary to obtain the just result you are entitled to.
Multiple convictions for impaired or intoxicated driving can indicate alcohol addiction. Occasionally, we can alert the court and prosecutor of the addiction and convince them to allow the person arrested to participate in a court treatment program as an alternative to incarceration. If so, we may be able to avoid prison time, and maybe even get your arrest sealed.
If you were arrested for an impaired driving crime, you want an experienced attorney by your side. Contact us today.