Driving While Impaired (DWI) is a misdemeanor offense in North Carolina. Other states may use different abbreviations and define the offense in various ways, but the act of driving drunk is a crime in any form. In some states, you don’t even need to be physically driving to get the penalty. Know the laws, but above all, don’t drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Remember, you don’t have to be intoxicated to be impaired while driving.

North Carolina’s DWI laws

North Carolina follows the United States standard of .08 BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) to qualify a DWI/DUI. However, commercial motor vehicle operators will receive a DWI for a BAC of .04.

There is also a zero-tolerance policy for those under the age of 21 and for school bus and child care vehicle drivers.

Levels of Impaired Driving

There are five levels of misdemeanor DWI offenses from Level V (least serious) to Level I (most serious):

Level Fine Jail Time Stipulations
Level V Up to
$200
Minimum 24 hours; Maximum 60 days Judge can suspend the sentence if the driver has spent at least 24 hours in jail, has performed 24 hours of community service.
Level IV Up to
$500
Minimum 48 hours; Maximum 120 days Judge can suspend the sentence if the driver has spent at least 48 hours in jail, has performed 48 hours of community service, or has not operated a vehicle for 60 days.
Level III Up to
$1,000
Minimum 72 hours; Maximum 6 months Judge can suspend the sentence if the driver has spent at least 72 hours in jail, has performed 72 hours of community service, or has not operated a vehicle for 90 days.
Level II Up to
$2,000
Minimum 7 days; Maximum 1 year Judge cannot suspend the minimum sentence.
Level I Up to
$4,000
Minimum 30 days; Maximum 2 years Judge cannot suspend the minimum sentence.

DWI becomes a felony (a more serious crime) for offenders with three prior convictions in the previous seven years. These habitual DWI offenders automatically receive a minimum of one year of jail time and mandatory substance abuse treatment. These drivers may also have their vehicles forfeited by the judge.

Other Important Impaired Driving Laws

DUI

Driving Under the Influence, or DUI, is the most common abbreviation other states use for drunk driving and encompasses more than just alcohol. In states with DUI laws, you could be arrested for illegal or prescription drug intoxication as well as toxic vapor intoxication. Some states have laws for both DWI and DUI offenses, depending on the offender’s age.

OUI

Operating Under the Influence, or OUI, is only used by certain states such as Massachusetts and Maine and in Federal Courts. This law stipulates that the person operating a vehicle may be charged with a OUI even if they are not actually driving the vehicle.

OUI laws are especially significant if you plan to travel to Canada as you may not be permitted entry. According to Canadian DUI Entry Laws, foreign nationals with OUIs on their criminal record must receive special permission to enter Canada.