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Highest and lowest blood alcohol content states to be DUI

All 50 U.S. states now have relatively uniform laws about permissible blood alcohol concentrations, so that any discussion of which state has the highest or lowest concentrations to be DUI in has become rather a discussion about which states have the most liberal and the toughest penalties for drunk driving.

The reality is that all states are gradually toughening their rules about drunk driving and are making the penalties for being over the limit increasingly stringent. State governments think this is necessary in the face of a relatively small number of people who continually flout the laws about driving under the influence of drink and therefore contribute to the nation’s highway injury and fatality toll. Some states, which had a particularly high incidence of accidents caused by drunk drivers, have belatedly got onto the bandwagon and tightened up their rules.

All states have uniform maximum BAC limits

All states now have a uniform maximum permissible blood alcohol (BAC) content of 0.08%. This means that anybody with an amount of alcohol in their bloodstream of more than 0.08% can be charged with a DUI (driving while under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated). This applies to adults, which in most states means anybody over 21. Minors (the under 21s) must not drink and drive at all, i.e. have a BAC of 0% in most states, although a few allow a BAC of 0.02%. This restriction has come about as a result of abysmal figures of accidents caused by young people drinking and driving. Commercial drivers throughout the country have a limit of 0.04%.

While there is this uniformity in blood alcohol levels, the actual penalties do still vary from state to state to some degree or another.

Is New Jersey the toughest state in the U.S.?

Opinion seems to vary about which is the toughest state when it comes to drunk driving penalties. It all depends on the penalty. New Jersey has the lowest BAC level of 0.1% used to impose extra penalties, including mandatory use of ignition interlock devices, but on the other hand does not insist on this being mandatory for all DUI offenses as some states, like Arizona, do.

Most states consider 0.15% as the cut off point for extra penalties for DUI, but the figures range from a low of 0.1% (New Jersey) to as high as 0.25% in Washington D.C. Ignition interlock devices, which prevent a driver form using their own vehicle if they have a BAC of over a certain maximum amount have become increasingly widespread in many U.S. states, but the conditions under which they are prescribed by courts does vary.

Washington D.C. appears to be the laxest jurisdiction

Around half the states make ignition interlock devices mandatory on every DUI offense, which makes them tough in this regard, while others only insist on them being installed when drivers have been detected with more than the higher limit. Washington D.C. again appears to be the laxest jurisdiction, with the use of interlock devices only being discretionary.

Variations in the use of penalties also include minimum and maximum jail sentences, the amount of fine imposed, the length of time that a license will be suspended and what happens to the driver’s vehicle – in some states it is impounded, in others it is confiscated and many will allow a driver to remain driving under strict conditions if there is a compelling reason e.g. for work.


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