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North Carolina DWI Laws: 17 Things You Didn’t Know

A DWI is a serious charge in NC, and it’s essential to know what you’re up against if arrested for Driving While Impaired. You probably know that a BAC of 0.08% or more can bring you charges. But did you know that an officer can pull you over and test for substances other than alcohol? Or that there is no specific limit for prescription medications? Read on to learn 17 things you didn’t know about North Carolina’s DWI laws!

17 Things You Didn’t Know About NC DWI Laws

First, understand that NC DWI laws usually come into play when your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeds .08%. The limit for driving a commercial vehicle is .04%, while underage drivers’ limit is 0.00%.

However, there are many other ways to receive a DWI charge in NC.

1- It Doesn’t Matter What You’re Driving

You can get a DWI in NC while driving a golf cart, bike, lawnmower, scooter, or horse-drawn carriage! Whether or not a vehicle is motorized is irrelevant – if it’s capable of being driven on a public road, you can face NC DWI charges while operating it.

For example, let’s say you and your family ride on your golf cart to a celebration at your community clubhouse. You have a few cocktails and figure driving a golf cart is okay. On the way home, police stop and charge you with an NC DWI.

However, in this case, aggravating factors exist. You also face child endangerment charges for letting your kids ride with you.

“Aggravating factors” such as having a minor in your car when convicted of NC DWI can bring harsh penalties. However, “grossly aggravating” factors can bring even stiffer penalties!

With additional “aggravating” or “grossly aggravating” factors added to your DWI charge, you’ll need an experienced lawyer to walk you through your options. 

2- Aggravating and Mitigating Factors Determine DWI Conviction Penalties

Aggravating factors can make penalties worse when it comes to DWI sentencing. However, according to North Carolina law, mitigating factors may help a judge give you a shorter sentence. Mitigating factors could include a clean driving record or a BAC under .08%.

And if your mitigating factors outweigh your aggravating factors, you might face a minimum jail sentence rather than the max jail time!

3- Charges for Parking in Your Car With No Alcohol?

It’s not just driving while impaired – you can face charges even while parked if your car is on! If law enforcement officials see you sleeping in a car, they may investigate. Once they smell alcohol on your breath, they can charge you with an impaired driving offense, such as DWI.

For example, let’s say you had a few drinks at a bar and decided to wait a while before driving home. You climb into your car in the driver’s seat and fall asleep in the public parking lot but leave your car on. Officers see you there and, after investigation, charge you with DWI.

4- Impaired Driving While Taking Legally Prescribed Medications

Unlike alcohol, the limit for prescription medications is…murky at best. There is no specific limit for prescription medications in North Carolina’s DWI laws. If your ability to operate a vehicle is impaired by prescription medication, you can face arrest and conviction.

For example, let’s say you take prescription medication for anxiety. You took your usual dose this morning, but it’s wearing off, and you’re feeling anxious. You decide to take an extra pill to help calm yourself. An officer sees you driving erratically and pulls you over. When they investigate, they charge you with DWI. They believe the medication caused impaired driving.

5- Law Enforcement Pulls You Over For Erratic Driving

If a police officer sees you driving carelessly or erratically, they can pull you over and require chemical testing. You’ll face arrest and DWI charges if officers catch you with chemicals in your blood that could explain your impairment.

For example, let’s say you use cocaine at a party. A police officer can pull you over if they see you swerving in your lane. You’re then arrested and charged with DWI after failing sobriety tests. When they test your blood, it comes back positive for cocaine. 

6- Automatic License Suspension for Refusing Chemical Testing?

In North Carolina, if officers pull you over on suspicion of DWI, you may want to consent to chemical testing. If you refuse, you face automatic suspension of your license for a year – along with other penalties.

For example, let’s say you were at a bar with friends and had a few drinks. You’re unsure if you’re over the legal BAC, so you refuse chemical testing when the police officer asks.

Your license is then automatically suspended for a year regardless of whether you are convicted of the DWI charge.

7- You Have 30 Minutes to Find a Witness for Breathalyzer or Chemical Testing

You may not know that North Carolina law gives you 30 minutes for a friend or witness to come and observe any testing. You have an excellent drunk driving defense if officers refuse to allow a witness.

8- Charged With DWI Even If You’re Not The Driver?

In North Carolina, you can face charges for aiding and abetting DWI as a passenger in a vehicle – even if you’re not the driver!

For example, let’s say you were at a party and had too much to drink. A friend grabs your keys and offers to drive you home, but officers pull him over. A police officer smells alcohol and asks everyone in the car to step out. After an investigation they determine that your friend who was driving was impaired.

Officers charge you with aiding and abetting (for turning your car keys over to the driver you presumably knew was intoxicated).

9- DWI Convictions For Less Than the Legal BAC

It is possible to get a DWI even if you have a blood alcohol content (BAC) below the legal limit of 0.08% in your system. If an officer believes you are driving impaired by alcohol, they can arrest and charge you with DWI.

For example, let’s say you had a drink at dinner and then decided to drive home. A police officer sees you driving erratically and pulls you over. The breathalyzer shows a BAC of 0.04%. However, the officer believes you’re driving while impaired by alcohol and decides to arrest and charge you with DWI.

10- Open Container in Back Seat?

Let’s say you throw some bags in your car for a trip to the beach. Your trunk is full, so you put an opened fifth of vodka in a gym bag on the back seat floor under other bags.

In this case, if police officers pull you over for speeding and have reason to search your bags, you can face open container charges for the opened bottle in the back seat.

You cannot legally carry alcohol in your passenger areas that are:

  • Designed to seat the driver or passengers (unless a taxi or bus)
  • Any location within reach of a seated driver or passenger, including the glove compartment

The only exception is in the case of a station wagon, hatchback, or similar vehicle. With these cars, the area behind the last upright back seat is not part of the passenger area.

11- DWI Assessment Required if You Get a DWI

In North Carolina, if you face a DWI conviction, you must get a substance abuse assessment from a licensed substance abuse professional. This professional will determine the level of care you need, which could range from an educational program, to an outpatient program to inpatient treatment.

12- Insurance Rates Sky-High From Even One DWI Conviction!

According to the North Carolina Division of Insurance, if you face conviction of DWI in NC, your insurance goes up 340%!!!

So if you pay $1,000 per year now, you may pay $3,400 for at least the next three years!

13- Field Sobriety Tests

You need to understand that refusing chemical tests results in automatic license suspension. However, if an officer asks you to walk a straight line at the arrest site, that is called a “field sobriety test.”

Field sobriety tests are voluntary in North Carolina – you can refuse to take them without penalty. However, if you choose to take one, know that a court may use the results against you.

14- Mixed Drinks Illegal in a Taxi

As long as the driver has no alcohol in their blood, it can be legal (in certain vehicles) to drink beer, malt liquor, ale, hard lemonade, and unfortified wine (table wine, champagne).

However, it’s only legal to drink these beverages in the back of the vehicles listed below:

If you drink more potent alcoholic drinks in the back of an approved vehicle, you can face charges!

15- Vehicle Confiscation

Under certain circumstances, a law enforcement officer can confiscate your car on the spot for a DWI charge. The law says that any motor vehicle used by anyone to commit a DWI can face confiscation.

So if you let a friend with habitual impaired driving borrow your car, your car could end up in the impound lot.

16- Penalties for First Offense DWI Include Limited Driving Privileges?

With a first-time North Carolina DWI, you can face misdemeanor convictions, attend an alcohol assessment, alcohol education classes, or treatment programs.

In North Carolina, even with a first offense, misdemeanors carry civil consequences such as administrative license revocation (license suspension), loss of a professional license, and a ruined career. Criminal charges you may face include financial penalties such as fines, a permanent criminal record, and county jail time!

You may need to agree to an ignition interlock device or a probation period in addition to jail time.

17- DWI Conviction Penalties Can Take You Out of Play

You can lose your right to drive for four years after a second offense and permanently lose your driving rights if you have three or more DWI convictions.

In addition to driver’s license suspensions, DWI penalties may include these consequences:

  • Thousands of dollars in court costs and fines
  • Possible or mandatory jail time
  • Probation
  • Alcohol abstinence through an alcohol monitoring device
  • Community service requirements
  • Enrollment in alcohol or substance abuse education courses
  • Higher car insurance premiums (up to 340% with your first offense dwi)
  • Additional penalties from the Department of Transportation

The penalties for a first-time aggravated Level 1 DWI are up to $10,000 in fines, 12 to 36 months in jail, and monitored sobriety for four months after release.

There you have it – 17 things you didn’t know about North Carolina DWI laws! 

And one last tip —-Whether you face a first-time offense, have a prior DWI conviction, or have caused a serious injury, you need an experienced lawyer to help defend against your charges!

Our Experienced Attorneys Can Handle Your DWI

If you or a loved one faces DWI charges, it’s essential to seek legal help as soon as possible. An experienced DWI attorney can help you understand NC DWI levels and the defenses available to you.

As a Raleigh, North Carolina-based firm, we go on the DWI offense, looking for rights violations! And we find the defenses that may help you receive reduced or dismissed charges. 

Contact us today for a free consultation and find out how we can help!