North Carolina DUI Laws

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Bonnie Stinson
Updated on Apr 27, 2022 · 9 min read
North Carolina DUI laws state that anyone who is driving with a blood or breath alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or above can be charged with a DWI, or "driving while intoxicated." The laws are zero-tolerance for anyone under 21 years of age.
Each year, over 10,000 people in the US are killed on the road as a result of drunk driving crashes.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a dangerous crime. Penalties vary by state, but even a first-time offender could have to pay up to $10,000 in legal fees and fines. A DWI in North Carolina will most certainly impact your car insurance rates, too.
Here’s what you need to know about the DUI laws in North Carolina, compiled by Jerry, the car insurance comparison and broker app.
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What is a DUI?

DUI is an acronym that stands for driving under the influence, but some states use other acronyms. North Carolina uses DWI to mean "driving while intoxicated or impaired."
A North Carolina driver can be charged with a DWI for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Note that this includes legal drugs, like prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs, if they cause you to be impaired.

DWI in North Carolina

In North Carolina, it is illegal to operate a vehicle if you have a blood alcohol level of:
  • 0.08% or higher if you’re 21 or older
  • 0.04% or higher if you hold a commercial driver’s license
If you are under 21, you cannot drive with any alcohol in your system.
It is also illegal to drive while any metabolized schedule one controlled substance is still in your system. Be aware that you can be convicted in North Carolina even if the car is not moving or being in "actual physical control" of your vehicle, referring to your ability or intent to operate the vehicle.
There are five levels of DWI convictions in North Carolina, with level five being the least severe. Each level carries its own parameters for punishment.
Here’s how it works: After you are charged, you will be summoned to a hearing. At this hearing, the court will hear evidence—mitigating and aggravating evidence—to determine which level of conviction best fits your behavior.
Gross aggravating factors: Caused serious injury, drove with a revoked license, drove with a minor passenger while under the influence, received a prior DWI within the past seven years.
Aggravating factors: BAC exceeded .15%, drove recklessly, caused a collision, was speeding by more than 30 mph over the limit, avoided police, passed a stopped school bus, had two prior violations on record.
Mitigating factors: Evidence of a low BAC (.09% or lower), the impairing drug was prescribed, driving behavior was relatively safe.
Mitigating factors will lessen the severity. You can create more mitigating factors ahead of your court date by submitting to a mental health screening, 60-day sobriety monitoring, or treatment before sentencing.
Key Takeaway North Carolina’s system of determining DWI convictions is complicated and based on aggravating and mitigating factors.

Aggravated level one

An aggravated level one conviction means you were found to have three or more gross aggravating factors. You will face fines up to $10,000, up to three years in jail, and be enrolled in a substance treatment program.

Level one

If your situation involved two gross aggravating factors or you transported a minor passenger, then you will be charged with a level one DWI, which comes with up to $4,000 in fines and up to one month in jail. The judge may grant you probation, but you must spend a minimum of 10 days in jail and submit to sobriety monitoring.

Level two

One gross aggravating factor is enough to convict you of a level two DWI in North Carolina. You will face $2,000 in fines, between seven days and 12 months in jail, and be enrolled in some kind of substance treatment program.
If you had a prior DWI on record in the last five years, you will also be required to complete 240 hours of community service.

Levels three, four, and five

With no gross aggravating factors present, it’s up to the judge to determine the aggravating and mitigating factors in your case. A level three DWI is for situations where there are more aggravating than mitigating factors. You’ll spend three days to six months in jail and pay a $1,000 fine.
A level four DWI is when the factors are mostly balanced. Level four offenders will spend between two and 120 days in jail and pay a $500 fine.
A level five DWI is the least severe, and it’s reserved for situations where a driver has more mitigating factors than aggravating factors. In this case, you’ll spend between 24 hours and 60 days in jail (which is usually avoidable by doing community service) and pay $200 in fines.
That said, there is zero tolerance for minors driving under the influence. People under the age of 21 may not carry alcohol inside a vehicle unless a parent is present and the container is unopened, full, and sealed.
Underage motorists can be charged with a class 2 misdemeanor for driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
Every state has an implied consent law, which says you consent to be tested if an officer suspects you of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
If you are lawfully arrested for a DWI, you are required to submit to a urine, blood, or breath test. North Carolina drivers who unlawfully refuse a chemical test can be penalized with revocation of their license for one year.
You do not have the right to consult with legal counsel before taking the test.

Penalties for a DWI in North Carolina

Penalties for DWIs are quite severe. The conviction will remain on your driving record for seven years for a misdemeanor or 10 years for a felony habitual DWI in North Carolina.

First conviction

In North Carolina, a first-offense DWI for a driver 21 and older could result in the following penalties:
PenaltyLevel 5Level 4Level 3Level 2Level 1Level 1A
Fine$200$500$1,000$2,000$4,000Up to $10,000
Jail24 hours to 60 days48 hours to 120 days72 hours to 6 monthsSeven days to 12 months30 days to two yearsOne to three years
License suspension30 days to one yearOne yearOne yearOne yearOne yearOne year
Vehicle impoundmentPossibleYesYesYesYesYes
SR-22 requirementNoNoNoNoNoNo
Ignition interlock deviceYesYesYesYesYesYes
All DWI convictions in North Carolina carry a mandatory substance abuse assessment. This must be followed by the recommended treatment or rehabilitative program. A judge may permit this treatment time to count towards the driver’s required jail time.
An ignition interlock device (IID) is required for anyone charged with a DWI in North Carolina. Once installed in your vehicle, this device will prevent you from starting the car if there is any alcohol on your breath.
FineUp to $1,000
Jail60 days maximum
License suspensionUntil age 21
Vehicle impoundmentPossible
SR-22 requirementNo
Ignition interlock deviceUntil 21 years of age

Subsequent convictions

If you are convicted of a DWI again, you will be subject to increased penalties in some categories. Otherwise, the consequences will depend on the level of your conviction.
Fine$200 to $10,000
Jail24 hours to three years
License suspensionFour years to lifetime suspension
Vehicle impoundmentPossible
SR-22 requirementNo
Ignition interlock deviceThree to seven years
It is possible to be eligible for early reinstatement by submitting to alcohol monitoring. By completing this program, a four-year license revocation could be reduced to two years, and a lifetime suspension could be erased after three years. To be eligible, drivers must submit a certificate of completion for the court-mandated substance abuse treatment.
Key Takeaway Minimum penalties are usually increased if you had a very high blood alcohol concentration or if you were involved in an accident where someone was injured—even for a first conviction.

Hardship license

Many states offer restricted licenses so that convicted drivers may still drive to and from essential appointments and work. First-time offenders in North Carolina generally qualify. If you qualify, you
  • Must install an IID on your vehicle.
  • Must agree only to drive vehicles with an IID.
  • May only drive to essential appointments (work, school, church)
You will not be eligible for a hardship license if you refused testing or if you caused a vehicular homicide.
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Does a DWI impact car insurance in North Carolina?

Yes, insurance companies look very poorly on drivers with DUI and DWI convictions. It’s not a judgment of character but an assessment of risk. A DWI conviction means that you will be classified as a high-risk driver for insurance purposes, which often triggers a hefty increase to your premium.
It can be a struggle to find insurance in North Carolina with a DWI on record. The best strategy is to shop around. The Jerry app will help you compare rates from up to 50 top insurance companies—in just 60 seconds. No lengthy forms or bad hold music, just savings.
With a conviction on your record in North Carolina, expect substantially higher rates than your previous payment. Note that North Carolina is one of the very few states that does not require drivers to carry SR-22 insurance after a DUI.

Other effects of a DWI

In addition to the fees and increased insurance rates, you could face more consequences due to a DWI conviction.
License revocation: After a DWI or DUI charge, you will have your license revoked or suspended for at least 12 months.
Ignition interlock device: Every state has a version of the ignition interlock program. This requires drivers with a DWI conviction to install an IID in their vehicle, which can disable your engine if any alcohol is detected on your breath.
Background checks: A DWI will appear on your background check. This means that any employer can pull your record and see your conviction.

How to find cheap insurance after a DWI

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