The national legal limit for alcohol in your system is 0.08 percent. This percentage is the point where intoxication is clear and dangerous for everyone, regardless of factors such as size and age. Operating a vehicle under this level of impairment will result in criminal charges and can easily lead to an OUI conviction and the associated penalties. It takes a strong defense to avoid this outcome.
However, what if your BAC is below 0.08 percent? Can the police still arrest and charge you for drunk driving?
Any alcohol intake puts you at risk
The answer is “yes.” What matters more than the number is your ability to drive safely. If the police see that alcohol has affected you enough to make you a danger on the road, they can charge you for an OUI, even if your BAC was under the legal limit.
It does not take reaching 0.08 percent to affect your performance behind the wheel. For this reason, commercial drivers cannot go above 0.04 percent. Likewise, Utah became the first state to lower its legal limit to 0.05 percent. Many countries around the world use that same standard, or a stricter one.
Signs of impairment law enforcement look for
Before police can test your BAC, they must have reason to believe you are intoxicated. They look for these signs of impairment while you are driving:
- Slower reaction time
- Erratic or reckless driving
- Failure to use lights, turn signals and other necessary mechanisms
They can also look for signs after pulling you over for a different traffic offense:
- Bloodshot eyes and slurred speech
- Lack of coordination and concentration
- Visibly open or empty containers of alcohol
- Presence of alcoholic odor
If you show any of these signs, you may still face OUI charges, even if you are not at the legal limit. Even just having an open container can be enough, whether or not you drank from it.