Driving While Ability Impaired vs Driving While Intoxicated

The legal limit for Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) in your blood is 0.08 percent, any more and you’re automatically slapped with a New York DWI charge. So why is it still considered illegal to drive with less than that? Driving with BAC of 0.05 to less than 0.08 is considered Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI). What’s the difference? Why not just say the legal limit is 0.05%?

The issue is threefold:

    • Police officers must have probable cause to stop your vehicle, such as signs of being impaired.
    • People have varying levels of alcohol tolerance, depending on fitness and body size, whether they have consumed food or drugs, or even just random quirk of genetics.
    • Impairment of the senses and good judgment can be caused by other things than alcohol.

The main thing is that while DWI is a criminal misdemeanor or felony, DWAI is a traffic infraction. Thus, a New York DWI Lawyer will often attempt to get charges reduced to a DWAI at the start. The prosecution has to prove that driving with a BAC of less than 0.08% actually impairs your ability as a driver, while it is much simpler in a DWI charge to prove that your BAC is 0.08% or greater to be considered legally drunk.

It’s important to remember that Driving While Ability Impaired by Alcohol and Drugs in Combination (DWAI/Drugs) is worse in the eyes of the court, because alcohol and most drugs tend to have compounding harmful effects on your body.

Punishment for DWAI

While being convicted for DWI does not give a criminal record, the penalties and potential life impact can still be harsh, specially in the case of increased insurance premiums. You also have to pay to get your license reinstated and may need to pay thousands of dollars in total fees.

  • For a first offense, there are mandatory fees and civil penalties from $300 to $500, incarceration of up to 15 days, while your license is suspended for 90 days.
  • For a second offense; any DWAI charge within 5 years; the fines go between $500 and $750, you may spend up to 30 days in jail, or even both. Your license will be suspended for at least 6 months.
  • For a third offense any time within 10 years, it is now a misdemeanor DWAI which carries a criminal record. The fines go from $750 to $1500, you may spend up to 180 days in jail, and enter a probation period of 3 years. Your license is revoked for at least 18 months, and will only be allowed to relicense after an alcohol evaluation with an ignition interlock device installed at your expense.

In addition, in all cases you will be required to attend a Victim Impact Panel or the Drinking Driver Program, and pay a driver responsibility assessment fee of $250 for 3 years.

Punishment for DWI

First, it’s important to remember that Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Driving While Ability Impaired by Drugs (DWAI/Drugs) have the same penalties. It may be possible to argue down a charge if the DWAI/Drugs is from prescription drugs, but not when it involves illegal substances. A first offense is a misdemeanor, subsequent offenses are felonies.

  • A first offense means you have to pay a fine of between $500 to $1000, or stay in jail for up to 1 year, or both. Your license will be revoked for at least 6 months.
  • A second offense is any DWI charge within 10 years of being convicted of DWI, DWAI, Aggravated DWI, or DWAI/Combined. Felony DWI is a Class E Felony which carries a fine of $1000 to $5000, up to 4 years in a state prison, or both.
  • A third offense is a Class D Felony, which means you must pay a fine of between $2000 and $10,000 and face the possibility of up to 7 years in a state prison, with a revocation period of at least 18 months with a probation period of 5 years.

Aggravated DWI is to drive with 0.18 BAC or higher, which carries much stiffer penalties, at least double that of a standard DWI charge.

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