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Westchester County FAQ for DWI

Why are the penalties for drinking and driving so strict?

Drinking and driving is a hazardous combination.

  • One third of the fatalities in New York State involve impaired or intoxicated drivers and pedestrians.
  • With increased Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), crash risk increases sharply. A driver with a BAC of 0.08 is four times more likely to cause a crash as a driver who has not been drinking, while a driver with a BAC of 0.16 is 25 times more likely to do so.
  • Young drinking drivers are at the highest risk of all. Drivers 20 years old or younger are almost three times more likely to be involved in alcohol related fatal crashes than other drivers.

How much can I drink before it affects my driving ability?

Any amount of drinking will affect your judgment and coordination, and reduce your ability to judge distances, speeds and angles. The degree of impairment depends on four basic factors:

  1. The amount you drink.
  2. Whether you’ve eaten before or while drinking (food slows absorption).
  3. Your body weight.
  4. The length of time spent drinking.

Everyone’s safe driving ability deteriorates after drinking. Some people, especially young drivers, lose their driving skills even more quickly. This is why New York State law makes it illegal for any driver or passenger to possess an alcoholic beverage with intent to consume. This is commonly called the “open container” law. It is also illegal to purchase an alcoholic beverage if you are under 21 years old.

What is the quickest way to sober up?

The only way to reduce your BAC after drinking is to wait for your body to metabolize (eliminate) the alcohol – and that takes several hours. Your body metabolizes about one drink each hour. Coffee will not sober you up. Neither will a walk or a cold shower. They make you feel more awake but you will be just as impaired, and it will be just as dangerous for you to drive.

What should I do if I drink too much?

Find someone who has not been drinking to drive your car or give you a ride home, or call for a taxi.

What are the chances of being caught if I drive under the influence?

Greater than ever before, because of New York State’s STOP–DWI law. This law returns drinking driving fines to counties that use the money to operate programs for drinking driving enforcement, prosecution, adjudication, and education. Every county in New York State has a STOP–DWI program. This results in more police with better equipment on the roads looking for drinking or impaired drivers, more district attorneys prosecuting them, and more judges holding hearings for drinking driving cases.

What will happen to me if I am stopped by police?

If you are stopped by a police officer who believes you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you may be required to take a “field sobriety test” which may include a breath–screening test for the presence of alcohol. If you are arrested, you will be asked to take a “chemical test” for BAC. You may also be fingerprinted.

Driving while Intoxicated (DWI) is a crime. If you are convicted, you will face a substantial fine, a mandatory surcharge, license revocation, higher insurance premiums, and a possible jail sentence.

What is BAC (blood alcohol content)?

BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) is a measure of the concentration of alcohol in a person’s blood. It is the best predictor of the likelihood of crash involvement.

Are license penalties the same for all age groups?

No. If you are under 21, your driver license will be revoked for one year if you are convicted of DWI or DWAI that occurred in New York State, or in any other state or province of Canada. If you are found to have refused to take a chemical test in New York State, even if not convicted of DWI or DWAI, your license will be revoked for one year.

If you commit a second such offense while you are under 21, your license will be revoked for at least one year or until you are 21, whichever is longer.

If you enroll in the Drinking Driver Program (DDP) and receive a conditional license, your license will remain in conditional status for the original full period of revocation.

Your driver license or privilege of applying for a license will also be suspended if you are found guilty of using a New York State Driver License or Non–Driver Identification Card as proof of age to illegally purchase alcoholic beverages.

It is also illegal for you to allow someone else to use your driver license or non–driver ID card. The penalty can be a fine of $75 to $300, and up to 15 days in jail.

NOTE - Motorboat and snowmobile operators under 21 years old who drink alcohol are subject to similar penalties and sanctions against their motorboat or snowmobile operating privileges.

What will happen if I refuse to take a chemical test?

If you refuse a chemical test for BAC (Blood Alcohol Content), your license will be suspended at arraignment in court, and revoked for at least one year (second offense, 18 months) at a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing. You will also be subject to a civil penalty of $500 (second offense, $750). A driver under 21 years old who refuses to take a chemical test under the Zero Tolerance Law is subject to a 1–year license revocation and a $300 civil penalty. The penalties and fines for refusing to submit to a chemical test are separate from, and in addition to, the penalties and fines for alcohol or drug–related convictions.

What are the DWI penalties for commercial drivers?

Commercial drivers are unlike regular motorists because they have more responsibilities on their plates. Those who have an A, B or C commercial driver’s license (CDL) are held to higher standards because they operate heavy, large and sometimes dangerous vehicles. Therefore, they are punished extra harshly for having an illegal blood alcohol content of .04 or higher. Keep in mind, this is half the BAC limit (.08) for regular drivers.

If a commercial driver is convicted of DWI, they may lose their CDL and subsequent livelihood. Their profession requires a CDL and without one, a commercial driver will lose their job. Other DWI penalties for commercial drivers include:

  • First-time DWI or DWAI conviction with a BAC of .04 or higher: 1-year driver’s license revocation
  • Second DWI or DWAI conviction with a BAC of .04 or higher: Lifetime revocation with a chance of waiver after 10 years
  • Third DWI or DWAI conviction with a BAC of .04 or higher: Lifetime revocation with no possibility of a waiver

What is the "zero tolerance" law?

This law makes it illegal for a driver under age 21 to have consumed any alcohol. A police officer may temporarily detain you to request or administer a chemical test to determine your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). If your BAC is .02 to .07 percent, you will be notified to appear at a DMV hearing. If the judge's finding supports the charge, the penalty is a 6–month license suspension, a $125 civil penalty, and a $100 suspension termination fee. Each additional offense will result in your license being revoked for at least one year or until age 21, whichever is longer, plus a $125 civil penalty, and a $100 license re–application fee.

NOTE: If your BAC is .05 percent or greater, the police may charge you with driving while ability impaired (DWAI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI), and may prosecute your arrest in criminal court.

What is the "ignition interlock" program?

A judge can order an ignition interlock device as a condition of a probation period in connection with an alcohol–related conviction. For an Aggravated–DWI offense or any repeat alcohol or drug offense within five years, a judge is required to order the system to be installed on each vehicle owned or operated by the motorist during both the revocation period and any probation period that follows. The judge also must order an alcohol assessment for the repeat offender. If the assessment indicates the need for alcohol treatment, the judge may be required to order completion of the treatment as a condition of probation.

This device, purchased and installed at the expense of the motorist, is connected to a motor vehicle ignition system and measures the alcohol content of the operator’s breath. As a result, the vehicle cannot be started until the driver provides an acceptable sample breath. While using the interlock device, the motorist may be eligible to hold a conditional license. The license will be revoked if the motorist fails to comply with the court’s terms, or for conviction of any traffic offense other than parking, stopping or standing.

License Penalties

In addition to the imposed fine following conviction, most motorists must also pay a mandatory surcharge and a mandatory fee for assistance to crime victims. Not including the fine, the additional required surcharge and fee, combined, may reach hundreds of dollars or more.

Driver Responsibility Assessments

For each of the next three years, you will also have to pay a “Driver Responsibility Assessment” for certain violations that result in a conviction or administrative finding. Your learner permit, driver license, or driving privileges will be suspended if you do not make these payments.

If you are convicted of Aggravated Driving While Intoxicated (Agg–DWI), Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI), or Driving While Ability Impaired by Drugs (DWAI–Drug), or Driving While Ability Impaired by alcohol or drug (DWAI–Combination), or if you are found to have refused to submit to a chemical test, your driver responsibility assessment will be $250 each year.

If you are convicted of one or more traffic violations resulting in six points in any 18–month period, you will be required to pay $100 each year for the next three years. For each additional point accumulated during that period, you will be required to pay another $25 per point every year for three years. For information on how points are assessed, see “The Point System” online at the DMV Internet Office or read Chapter 2 of the New York State Driver’s Manual. Completion of a motor vehicle accident prevention course will not reduce the calculation of points affecting the driver responsibility assessment.

Convictions for Causing Death or Injury

You can be convicted of vehicular manslaughter or vehicular assault if you are found guilty of an alcohol–or drug–related driving violation that causes death or injury. In addition to driver license revocation, each conviction is a felony punishable by imprisonment and fines under New York State Penal law. Increased penalties are required if you have been convicted of an alcohol–or drug–related driving violation that occurred within the previous 10 years.

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