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What Is a Drunk Driving Offense?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2018
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A drunk driving offense is a crime in which an individual drives or otherwise operates a vehicle while intoxicated. Depending on the jurisdiction in which the drunk driving offense takes place, the charges faced by someone accused of drunk driving can vary in severity. In some places, distinctions are made in legal charges according to the degree of inebriation demonstrated by the alleged offender. While the term drunk driving implies alcohol use, the term is often informally applied to a situation in which somebody drives a car or other vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating substance, which includes alcohol as well as street, over-the-counter, and prescription drugs.

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Common terms used to describe a drunk driving offense include driving under the influence (DUI), driving while intoxicated (DWI), and, in the United Kingdom, drink driving. In many places, including the United States, drunk driving laws have become stricter in recent decades due to public awareness campaigns highlighting the significant dangers of driving while drunk. The seriousness with which a drunk driving offense is now regarded by the legal authorities is reflected both in the legal definition of intoxication as well as the penalties for breaking drunk driving laws. The legal definition of alcohol intoxication is typically defined in terms of blood alcohol level. A blood test is often performed on a suspected drunk driver to determine the amount of alcohol he has consumed as well as whether he is under the influence of any other substances.

In the United States, drunk driving laws vary by state. In many places, a driver who is stopped by the legal authorities may be required to submit to testing for intoxication. While drivers are not legally obligated to comply with this testing prior to being arrested, law enforcement officers may decide to arrest an individual who refuses the test. Some states increase the penalties for those convicted of a drunk driving offense if the driver refused to comply with a police officer's request to perform a sobriety test prior to arrest.

A very common penalty for drunk driving offenses is the suspension of an individual's drivers license. The length of the suspension may depend on a number of factors, including the age of the driver, the degree of intoxication, and whether the driver was responsible for any property damage or injuries. Although a first offense DUI may result in only a few months' license suspension, in some areas multiple drunk driving convictions can result in the permanent revocation of a person's license to drive.

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