DWI Versus DUI in North Carolina: What’s the Difference?

DWI Versus DUI in North Carolina: What’s the Difference?

Apr 08, 2023 | Criminal Defense,Traffic Violations

It is illegal to drive under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. This is often referred to as DWI (driving while impaired). DWI covers any cases where someone’s driving performance has been impaired because they engaged in drugs or alcohol behind the wheel. Sometimes you may hear people say DUI rather than DWI, but they are the same thing and can be used interchangeably. If you violate this state rule and are caught, you will be charged with DWI and forced to enter court and be proven innocent or guilty. Taking the time to understand the consequences of a DWI charge and how it can impact your life is key to deterring this dangerous behavior and keeping all drivers safe on the road.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits in North Carolina

Metrics matter when it comes to assessing how impaired someone is behind the wheel. The metric that is relied on heavily for these cases is someone’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Most drivers are not allowed to have over 0.08% BAC, as this likely indicates they illegally engaged in drugs or alcohol before driving. There are stricter regulations for commercial drivers due to the level of destruction their large vehicles can have on the road if they were to engage in careless behavior. Commercial drivers cannot have over 0.04% BAC. There is also a zero-tolerance rule for anyone under the age of 21.

Driving While Intoxicated Applies to Drugs and Alcohol

There is sometimes a misconception that DWI laws only apply to alcohol use. This is not true, as drugs can also impact someone’s ability to operate a vehicle as safely as when they are sober. This could include illegal drugs obtained on the streets or even overusing prescription medicine. If you are found to have a high level of either drug in your system after being pulled over and examined, it is fair game for an officer to begin the process of a DWI charge.

DWI Charges and Consequences

There can be severe consequences for anyone convicted of a DWI charge. This reflects how dangerous it is to operate a vehicle under the influence.

First-time offenders could face the following penalities:

  • A driver’s license suspension for up to one year.
  • $200 to $4,000-plus in legal fines.
  • Community service or time in prison from 24 hours to two years.
  • Alcoholism assessment and treatment.
  • Ignition interlock device installation to ensure sobriety when driving in the future.

Anyone who offends DUI rules more than once can expect to receive even harsher penalties than those listed above. It also increases the likelihood that you will have to go to prison instead of receiving a community service sentence.

Aggravating Factors

There are some factors outlined in North Carolina law that offer even more severe punishment to DUI offenders when their behaviors warrant it. For example:

  • Having a BAC higher than 0.15%.
  • Driving with a revoked license.
  • Causing an accident and other people to be injured while driving under the influence.
  • Having a minor in the vehicle when impaired.
  • Speeding or reckless driving.


Q: What Happens When You Get Charged With DWI?

A: When you receive a DWI, you are open to the possibility of facing many different consequences based on what happened in your case. For example, a first-time offender where no one was harmed may only have to face a small fee and perform community service for a year. If someone is looking at their third or fourth DUI conviction, the penalties will be increasingly harsher in an attempt to deter the behavior from happening again.

Q: Does DWI Stay on Your Record in North Carolina?

A: Yes, your DWI will appear on your record indefinitely. This can have an impact on your ability to secure future employment and housing. It could also impact your insurance premiums or reduce future driving privileges. The only chance to remove this from your record is to advance with an expungement request. Working with an experienced Hickory, NC, DWI lawyer can help assess if you would be a qualified candidate to get this removed from your record.

Q: Can I Refuse a Breathalyzer Test During a DWI Stop?

A: You are technically allowed to refuse a breathalyzer test if an officer requests one after pulling you over. However, refusing to participate does not come free of consequences. It will likely result in the suspension of your driver’s license. This assumes because you were not able to demonstrate that you were sober for an officer, you cannot be trusted to continue driving. Keep in mind that if legal charges do advance to court, the act of refusing a breathalyzer can be used against you in court. The officer may also request a warrant for a blood test if you appear so intoxicated that they have reasonable suspicion to believe you are over the legal limit.

Q: How Can I Reinstate My Driving Privileges After a DWI?

A: There are set steps and requirements to officially reinstate your ability to drive. For example, you may be forced not to drive on the roads for a year or two after the incident. You also could be required to pay a certain amount of legal fees or complete an alcohol education program to demonstrate your dedication to reversing your bad behavior. Once whatever steps have been identified are complete, you can officially apply for your license to be reinstated with the state DMV. This second chance allows drivers to start over and prove they are worthy of being safe drivers without repeating their mistakes.

Contact Law Office of Lyndon R. Helton, PLLC Attorneys Today

If you are involved in a DWI case and are looking for legal assistance to guide you through the process, contact the attorneys at Law Office of Lyndon R. Helton, PLLC. We offer compassionate and skilled legal help. For years they have been supporting residents with robust legal advice that keeps the state safer and rehabilitates offenders to return to the roads with a new outlook. We look forward to serving you.