New York State has strict driving while under the influence (DWI) laws. Unlike many states, New York DWI laws draw a distinction between driving under the influence and driving while your ability is impaired. This distinction allows for New York law enforcement to charge drivers with driving while ability impaired (DWAI) if the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is too low to support a regular DWI charge.
New York DWI laws also have some of the strictest penalties in the nation for repeat DWI offenders and for offenders who drive under the influence with a minor in the vehicle. With these strict laws, it is crucial for New York drivers to understand the DWI laws and consequences for breaking them.
What Is a DWI under New York Law?
New York DWI laws define a DWI as operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher. For drivers of commercial vehicles, a blood content of .04 is considered a DWI. Blood alcohol percentage is not the only determining factor in a DWI. Authorities can make a case for DWI if they find other evidence of intoxication, regardless of whether they can prove a BAC over the legal limit with a chemical test.
Drivers with a BAC of .18 or over are eligible for the upgraded charge of aggravated DWI. Drivers with more than .05 and less than .07 BAC can be charged with DWAI. One can also face charges of driving while ability impaired by a single drug other than alcohol (DWAI/single drug) or driving while ability impaired by a combined influence of drugs or alcohol(DWAI/combined). New York’s zero tolerance law applies to drivers under the age of 21 with a BAC between .02 and .07.
What Happens if I Get Pulled Over?
Traffic stops for DWI are not always the same, but you can expect several things to happen. First, the officer comes to your vehicle and evaluates whether there is reasonable suspicion of a DWI by observing your demeanor, coordination, speech, odor, and clothing. The officer may ask questions, such as whether you have been drinking or taking drugs. Requesting your license and registration is routine, and officers often use it as an opportunity to observe you remove the documents from your glove box or wallet to get a view of your coordination.
If the officer suspects you of DWI, he or she should read you your Miranda rights. The officer may then conduct a field sobriety test, a chemical test (breathalyzer) or both. If the breathalyzer result violates any of the above laws or if the field sobriety test results demonstrate intoxication, officers can place you under arrest and have your vehicle towed.
Can I Refuse the Tests?
Yes, with consequences.
New York is an implied consent state. That means when you choose to drive, you automatically give your consent to a chemical test for intoxication. Because of this, when you refuse, you violate New York DWI laws. The police cannot force you to take the test, but refusal is a crime, and they will charge you under New York law that prohibits chemical test refusal.
Field sobriety tests are not chemical tests, so they are outside the scope of implied consent. Refusing a field sobriety test constitutes no crime in itself, and you are free to do so; however, before making that decision, consider the information in the next section.
What Happens if I Refuse Them?
Field sobriety tests are generally used to establish grounds for imposing a chemical test. Though no statutory requirement makes refusal illegal, prosecutors can use a refusal as evidence in a trial.
Refusal to take the chemical test results in license revocation for at least one year and a $500 fine. For commercial drivers, the fine is $550 and the minimum revocation is 18 months. For second offenses within five years, the fine is $750 and the minimum revocation is 18 months. Commercial drivers also have their CDLs permanently revoked.
If drivers under the age of 21 refuse the chemical test, they face revocation for one year, a $300 fine, and a $100 re-application fee. Second offenses carry a sentence of revocation from one year or to the age of 21.
What Happens if I Have a Child Passenger?
DWI with a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle results in a violation under New York’s Leandra law. Leandra’s law provides for some of the stiffest penalties for DWI related offenses. Violations of Leandra’s law are felonies. Fines range from $1,000 to $5,000 and because it is a felony, state prison sentences are possible.
First Offense DWI
In New York, first offenses are misdemeanors. First offense DWI of DWI-Drug carries a revocation for a minimum of six months, a fine of $500 to $1,000, and up to one year in jail. For DWI-Drug, the license is suspended rather than revoked.
First offense aggravated DWI carries revocation for a minimum of one year, fines of 1,000 to $2,500, and up to a year in jail.
Second Offense DWI
Under New York DWI laws, second offenses are felonies. Second offense DWI or DWI-Drug are class E felonies. They carry a minimum one year revocation, fines of $1,000 to $5,000, and up to four years in prison.
Second offense aggravated DWI is also a class E felony. It carries minimum revocation of 18 months, fines of $1,000 to $5,000, and up to 4 years in prison.
Third Offense DWI
Third offense DWI and DWI-Drug are class D felonies under New York DWI laws. They carry a minimum revocation of one year, fines of $2,000 to $10,000, and up to 7 years in prison.
Third offense aggravated DWI is also a class D felony. It carries a minimum revocation of 18 months, fines of $2,000 to $10,000, and up to 7 years in prison.
New York DWI laws allow for stiff penalties. It also allows law enforcement latitude in using field sobriety tests and other evidence if they cannot prove their case with a chemical test. New York drivers can avoid any of these penalties by not drinking and driving. If impaired drivers stay off the road, many serious accidents are prevented.