What Is DUI? - Definition, Laws, Consequences & Penalties

Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Review what constitutes a DUI. Learn what the laws are surrounding this driving violation, including how they may differ among states. Discover the consequences and penalties for DUIs.


Imagine it is the Fourth of July and there is a big party. A friend of yours had about 6 beers and is now driving away from the party. Suddenly, you see the blue and red lights of a cop car pulling your friend over to the curb. You see the officer administer a breathalyzer test and then watch as handcuffs are placed on his wrists. Unfortunately, your friend has been arrested for a DUI.

A DUI, which stands for driving under the influence, is a driving violation. It is driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other substances that impair one's ability to operate an automobile. If someone is convicted of committing a DUI, they can incur significant penalties, which will be discussed here. In most states, in order to be considered driving under the influence, one has to have a blood alcohol content higher than a certain amount. It is typically in the range of .05% - .08%. This level is obtained by chemical testing.


Every state has differing laws regarding DUIs. The laws are designed to deter drunk driving and protect individuals from injuries or death due to drunk drivers. Initially, in virtually every state, the refusal to take a blood alcohol test typically results in an automatic suspension of one's driver's license. This is because of the fact that when one gets his/her driver's license, one agrees to testing as a condition of the license. In addition, some state laws require mandatory incarceration (jail time) for a high blood alcohol content level, while other states leave this determination in the discretion of the presiding judge. In addition, many states require probation for first time offenses. Furthermore, virtually every state requires fines to be paid for DUIs.

It is important to note that some states distinguish between a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) offense and a DUI charge. These states have higher penalties for a DWI charge because the blood alcohol content level for a DWI is higher than a DUI charge.

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