Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) is illegal in every state, and for good reasons. No one should drive while their motor coordination and mental processing skills are so impaired that they are a danger to everyone around them. In most states the blood alcohol limit allowed by law is .08 percent, or 80 milligrams of ethyl alcohol to 100 millileters of blood. However, it is possible for a person to be impaired by alcohol before they ever reach that limit.
When a person is arrested for DUI the police offer the opportunity to take a test to determine the exact blood alcohol content (BAC) the driver had. For some, it’s an opportunity to prove they aren’t above the legal limit. For most, it proves what the police already know: that the driver was too drunk to drive. The test offered is most always a breath test. Breath tests are simple to take but operate on very complicated scientific principles that make them highly accurate. What the test result shows is so accurate that it is admissable in court as evidence against the driver. So is it possible to be convicted of DUI if the test result shows a lower BAC than the legal limit? Or is it possible to be convicted if you refuse to take the test? In fact, it is.
The breath test is one part of the case against someone accused of DUI. But it is not the only evidence. And n some cases, it’s not even a necessary part. A police officer can testify to the reckless manner in which a person drove their motor vehicle, that the person smelled of consumed alcoholic beverage, that their speech was slurred, that the person’s motor coordination was poor and that the person had trouble walking or standing straight. The officer can also testify that the driver failed certain sobriety tests designed to determine the driver’s motor and cognitive abilities, such as the walk and turn test or reciting the alphabet. If this testimony proves to the court that the operator of the motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol, it is enough in a court of law to convict someone of DUI. Even in the absence of a breath test, and even if the breath test shows a lower BAC than the legal limit.
A DUI charge accuses someone of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol to the extent they can’t control the motor vehicle in a safe manner. A person can be impaired by alcohol without reaching a BAC of .08 percent. Some people can’t “handle” their alcohol as well as other people, so to speak. The same number of drinks that might not affect one person might be more than enough to make another person a danger behind the wheel.
There are several factors that come into play when determining how alcohol will affect a person. These factors include a person’s gender, their height, their weight, how much they’ve had to eat, their mental state, even what medications they are on. All of these factors and more influence how impaired a person will become after a given number of drinks. A ninety pound, nineteen year old female will usually be more impaired by one glass of beer than would a 200 pound, forty year old man. And impairment can occur long before reaching the legal limit.
Having a BAC higher than the legal limit, as proven by a breath test, is a crime in and of itself in most states. This is referred to as “per se” DUI, the act of operating a motor vehicle with a .08% or higher BAC. However, it is also a crime just to be operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol. This is referred to as “common law” DUI. A person can be charged with, and convicted of, either. A breath test is an incredible scientific device, but is not necessary for a person to be convicted of DUI. As always, the best defence against a DUI conviction? Don’t drink and drive.