Information Concerning Alcohol and Driving While Impaired

There are five levels of misdemeanor Driving While Intoxicated. Level I is the most serious and Level V the least.

  • Level V
    Punishable by a fine up to $200 and a minimum jail sentence of 24 hours and a maximum of 60 days. A judge can suspend the sentence but upon completion that the driver spend 24 hours in jail, perform 24 hours of community service or not operate a vehicle for 30 days.
  • Level IV
    Punishable by a fine up to $500 and a minimum jail sentence of 48 hours and a maximum of 120 days. A judge can suspend the sentence but upon completion that the driver spend 48 hours in jail, perform 48 hours of community service or not operate a vehicle for 60 days.
  • Level III
    Punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and a minimum jail sentence of 72 hours and a maximum of six months. A judge can suspend the sentence only upon completion that the driver spend at least 72 hours in jail, perform 72 hours of community service or not operate a vehicle for 90 days.
  • Level II
    Punishable by a fine up to $2,000 and a minimum jail sentence of seven days and a maximum of one year. A judge CANNOT suspend the minimum sentence.
  • Level I

    Punishable by a fine up to $4,000 and a minimum jail sentence of 30 days and a maximum of two years. A judge CANNOT suspend the minimum sentence.

    Level I and II drivers are repeat offenders, persons whose license are revoked, impaired drivers, impaired drivers who are transporting young children and impaired drivers who hurt someone in a crash. Impaired drivers must complete a substance abuse assessment and comply with any recommended treatment as a condition for having their drivers license restored at the end of the revocation period.

Felony DWI

For Habitual DWI offenders, drivers who have had three prior DWI convictions within the past seven years, DWI becomes a more severe felony. But more importantly, the Habitual DWI statute now mandates a minimum active jail term of one year — a sentence that CANNOT be suspended. Offenders must also go through a substance abuse program while in jail or as a condition of parole.

Seizure and Forfeiture of Vehicles

The Governor’s DWI Initiative takes away from repeat DWI offenders the means to drive while impaired; namely, their cars. Under the new provision, a law enforcement officer can seize a driver’s car if the officer charges that person with DWI and that person was driving while his or her license was revoked due to a previous impaired driving offense. The seizure happens at the time of the arrest and NOT after the case has come to trial.

If a court convicts the driver of DWI and of committing the offense while driving with a revoked license due to a previous impaired driving offense, the judge will order the vehicle forfeited. The school board can then sell the vehicle and keep the proceeds, sharing the money with any other school systems in the county, or keep the car for its own use. The law does allow vehicle owners to get their cars back if they were not the driver convicted of DWI but only if they satisfy the court that they are an innocent party.

Zero Tolerance for Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers

It’s unlawful for the operator of a commercial motor vehicle to drink and drive. The first offense results in a 10 day disqualification to operate a commercial motor vehicle. The second or subsequent offense revokes the drivers license to operate any vehicle.

Zero tolerance for school bus and school activity bus drivers and child care vehicle drivers.

It is unlawful for school bus and school activity bus drivers and child care vehicle operators (day care van etc.) to drink and drive.

Offenders Under Age 21

Prior to the enactment of the new statutes, North Carolina had already taken a zero-tolerance stance against drivers who were under the legal drinking age who nevertheless drank or used drugs illegally and then got behind the wheel. People under age 21 simply cannot drive with any alcohol or illegally-used drugs in their systems — period. Any amount of alcohol will result in an immediate 30 day pretrial revocation. If an underage drinking driver refuses to take such a test, he or she now need only have the smell of alcohol on the breath to be convicted of driving after drinking. Offenders will have their licenses revoked for one year but can get limited driving privileges instated by a judge if the driver was at least 18 years old at the time of the offense and did not have a prior conviction.

Drug Testing

The Initiative also recognized North Carolina’s inability to prosecute and convict someone for driving while impaired by something other than alcohol. Under the new provision, law officers can now order chemical tests for drugs. It also amends the old law to allow for the revocation of a driver’s license if he or she refuses to take such a test.

Drivers License Revocation

All persons charged with DWI who refuse to take an Intoxilyzer test or has results of 0.08 or more, 0.04 if commercial motor vehicle, or under age 21 and the results are above 0.04, will have their license revoked immediately for 30 days. There is a limited driving privilege available after 10 days. Upon conviction of DWI for first offense, the license is revoked for one year. A limited driving privilege may be granted by the judge, but only if the driver did not hurt anyone, did not have a child under sixteen years of age in the car at the time of the drunk driving, and the driver obtains a substance abuse assessment. In order to have a license restored at the end of one year, the driver must go to treatment or school as recommended by the assessment. Upon conviction of a second offense within three years, the revocation is four years.

Refusing a Test

A driver who is stopped by a Trooper or other officer for certain alcohol-related offenses will be requested to submit to a breath test or blood test or both to determine alcohol concentration or the presence of drugs in the blood. The results of the test will be used in court.

If the driver refuses the test, an immediate 30-day revocation is imposed and an additional one-year revocation is imposed after an opportunity for a hearing.

Even if the driver is found not guilty of DWI in court, the one-year revocation is imposed for refusing the test.

A limited driving privilege may be granted but only after a six-month revocation period.


Before 1999, North Carolina already had some of the strictest drinking and driving statutes ever adopted in the United States. The Governor’s DWI Initiative has made those regulations even tougher.

In December, 1998, the cars of repeat offenders are being seized and sold with the money given to the local school system. In excess of 8,000 vehicles have been seized since then. Starting in the year 2000 any person who is convicted of DWI and has their drivers license reinstated will not be able to drink and drive. Instead of an alcohol concentration of 0.08, these drivers will lose their license if they have limits of 0.04 or higher, depending upon their driving record and if they were charged and convicted after 1 July 2001. An ignition interlock system where the car will not start if the driver has been drinking will be required for some repeat offenders. The repeat offenders are being targeted and for good reason.

In 1998, 469 people died in alcohol-related crashes on North Carolina highways. Another 10,629 were injured. The North Carolina State Highway Patrol arrested nearly 40,000 people for driving while impaired (DWI) in 1998 and more than 43,000 the year before that. The combined DWI arrests for all law enforcement agencies in North Carolina totaled nearly 80,000 for each of those two years, respectively. Though they pale in comparison to the human loss, the financial costs in lawyer fees, court costs, fines, increased insurance rates, and the like to a person convicted of DWI are also great. They range from $6,000 to $8,000 over three years. The bottom line: Never drive after drinking any amount of alcohol!

In North Carolina, it is illegal to drive a vehicle while noticeably impaired or with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher. When driving a commercial motor vehicle, the limit is 0.04. The most significant aspects of the state’s new DWI law make punishment more severe for the impaired driver in general and the repeat offender in particular.


Transportation of an Open Container of Alcohol

Open and closed containers of all alcoholic beverages are prohibited in all commercial motor vehicles (bus, eighteen-wheeler, dump truck, etc.) except as listed below. An open container of any alcoholic beverage is prohibited in the passenger area of any motor vehicle (commercial or non-commercial) located on the highway or highway right of way – even if the vehicle is parked except as listed below.

If the seal on a container of alcoholic beverage has been broken, it is open.”Passenger area of a motor vehicle” means the area designed to seat the driver and passengers and any area within the reach of a seated driver or passenger, including the glove compartment. In the case of a station wagon, hatchback or similar vehicle, the area behind the last upright back seat is not considered part of the passenger area.

If the driver has not consumed any alcohol, an open container of a malt beverage (beer, malt liquor, ale, hard lemonade) or unfortified wine (table wine, champagne) is not prohibited:

  • In the passenger area of a motor vehicle designed, manufactured and used primarily for transportation of persons for compensation (buses, taxi-cabs, etc.);
  • In the living quarters of a motor home or home car;
  • In a house trailer.

Open containers of spirituous liquor (bourbon, gin, vodka, etc.), mixed drinks or fortified wine (wine with higher alcohol content, i.e., 17% to 24%, such as sherry or port) in the passenger area of any motor vehicle is always unlawful.

The amount of unopened alcoholic beverage which may be transported without a permit is as follows:

  • Not more than 80 liters of malt beverages, other than draft malt beverages in kegs
  • Any amount of draft malt beverages in kegs
  • Not more than 20 liters of unfortified wine
  • Not more than eight liters of either fortified wine or spirituous liquor, or eight liters of the two combined.