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Policewoman Writing Confused Driver a Ticket
Some of the DUI-Related Termonology Can Be Confusing

Definitions of DUI-Related Terms

By BuddyT

If you have been arrested for driving while under the influence, some of the terminology that you may encounter might be confusing, especially if you have never been in trouble with the law previously.

Here are some terms and their definitions that are associated with drunk driving laws:

Anti-Plea Bargaining Laws

To crack down on drunk driving, some states have passed laws that prohibit prosecutors from offering plea bargains to drivers with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit, such as allowing them to plead to a lesser charge of reckless driving to avoid a DUI on their record.


Blood alcohol concentration or blood alcohol content. That amount of alcohol in a driver's bloodstream as measured with a chemical test. Sometimes known as blood alcohol level.


Breath alcohol level or blood alcohol level. Some states allow drunk driving convictions based on the breath alcohol level of a driver.


A machine that measures a driver's blood alcohol content by determining the amount of alcohol in their lungs. Drivers are usually given two back-to-back breath tests and the scores are averaged.


In relation to drunk driving, burn off refers to the body's ability to metabolize alcohol and therefore reduce blood alcohol content. The burn off rate of alcohol varies from person to person due to many factors, including weight and age. Generally, the body burns off alcohol at about one ounce per hour.

Chemical Test

As it relates to drunk driving, a measure of the alcohol or drug concentration in a person's blood. A breathalyzer, blood analysis, or urinalysis can be used as chemical tests for alcohol, but only a blood test or urine test is used for other drugs.


The practice by law enforcement agencies to stop traffic on public streets and highways for the sole purpose of checking drivers for intoxication. The constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Child Endangerment

In regards to drunk driving, child endangerment refers to whether a child was in the vehicle when someone was arrested. Many states have laws that provide for enhanced sanctions and penalties if a child was endangered by the drunk driver.


Many states have laws that allow the vehicles of drunk drivers to be confiscated. The laws usually apply to repeat offenders and the confiscation can be either permanent or temporary.


Laws passed by some states that hold responsible businesses that serve or sale alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated. Dram shop laws are a set of laws that also assigns liability to servers if someone they serve is injured or injures someone else.


An acronym for driving under the influence. Although DUI means driving while intoxicated, it also can include driving under the influence of drugs.


An acronym for driving while intoxicated or driving while impaired. Either term refers to driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Enhanced Penalty

Penalties for drunk driving in many states are increased depending on several factors, including a blood alcohol content over .15 or .20, driving over a certain speed, having minors in the car, refusing to take a chemical test, having a traffic accident, or having prior convictions.


In relation to drunk driving cases, extrapolation is the process by which a blood alcohol content level at an earlier point in time is estimated taking into account the driver's age and weight, the amount consumed, the amount of time spent drinking, when the driver stopped drinking and other factors.

Fake ID

A photo identification card usually used to show that someone who is not old enough to drink is over 21. Can also refer to a fake driver's license.

Felony DUI

Most drunk driving charges are misdemeanor offenses, but most states file felony charges under certain situations, such as for repeat or habitual offenses or if someone is killed as a result of driving while impaired.

Field Sobriety Tests

A group of tests used by police to determine whether a driver is impaired. The tests are used to show balance, coordination and the ability of the driver to divide his or her attention among more than one task.

Habitual Offender

Many states have laws that provide for enhanced penalties if someone is repeatedly convicted for the same offense. Usually a driver is considered a habitual offender after three convictions, but many states now have enhanced sanctions for even a second offense.

Hardship License

Most states will allow limited driving privileges to be restored to drivers convicted of drunk driving even while their driver's license is suspended or revoked. Drivers usually must demonstrate special hardship to justify restoring privileges during suspension, and privileges often are limited, such as driving only to work and back.


As it applies to drunk driving laws, impaired means that a driver's abilities are diminished. In some states, a driver can be arrested for driving while impaired, even if his blood alcohol content is below the .08 level of legal intoxication, if the arresting officer believes his abilities are impaired.

Implied Consent

Most states now have passed laws that require vehicle drivers to submit to a chemical test -- breath, blood, or urine testing -- if suspected of DUI. If the driver refuses to submit to the test, implied consent laws carry penalties such as mandatory suspension of a driver's license.

Some believe that implied consent laws violate a driver's Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination, but thus far those laws have been upheld when challenged.

Ignition Interlock Device

A machine connected to car's ignition that checks for the presence of alcohol in the driver. The driver must blow into the machine to start the car and continue to periodically blow into the device to keep the car in motion. If the device senses alcohol, the car will not start or will turn itself off.

Mandatory Alcohol Education

In many states, penalties and fines for drunk driving convictions can be reduced if the driver participates in an education and assessment program, sometimes called "DUI School." In some states participation is mandatory to restore driving privileges.

Typically, these programs include drunk driving prevention education and an assessment of the offender's drinking level. If the evaluation finds that the driver is alcohol dependent, the driver can be mandated to participate in some form of treatment, counseling or support group.

Mandatory Jail Time

Most states have as part of the penalty for repeat drunk driving offenders sentencing that must include some time spent in jail. Some states have mandatory jail time for the first DUI offense.

Open Container Laws

Laws that prohibit the possession and drinking from an open alcoholic beverage container inside a vehicle or in public places. Some states prohibit the driver only from having an open container, while most states prohibit anyone in the vehicle from having open containers.


An acronym for operating under the influence, used in only three states, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The "operating" distinction encompasses more than just driving the vehicle. Even if the vehicle is stopped and not running, someone can be charged with operating under the influence.


An acronym for operating while intoxicated. "Operating" encompasses more than driving the vehicle. Even if the vehicle is stopped and not running, someone can be charged with operating while intoxicated.

Per Se Laws

Latin phrase that means "by itself" per se drunk driving laws state that someone is guilty of driving under the influence if their blood alcohol content is at a certain level (.08 in all 50 states). Drivers with a BAC at or above .08 are intoxicated in the eyes of the law and no additional proof of impairment is necessary to obtain a conviction.

Rising Alcohol Defense

A tactic used by defense attorneys in drunk driving cases based on the fact that blood alcohol levels continue to rise after someone stops drinking until they reach a peak. The argument is that chemical testing measures the blood alcohol content at the time of the test, not at the time the driver was driving.

SR-22 Insurance

Insurance certification to the driver's licensing agency that a driver has liability coverage and that the agency will be notified if the policy is cancelled or lapses. Most states require SR-22 insurance for drivers convicted of drunk driving before they can get driving privileges restored.

Test Refusal

Refusing to take a breathalyzer or other test for blood alcohol content. It can also refer to refusing to take a field sobriety test. In most states, refusal to take a test results in the immediate license suspension.

Vehicular Homicide

If an impaired driver is involved in a traffic collision that causes the death of another, the driver can be charged with murder just as if they had used a gun to kill the person. The fact that the driver was intoxicated is not a defense in a vehicular homicide case.

Zero Tolerance Laws

All 50 states now have laws that make it illegal for persons under age 21 to drive with any amount of alcohol in their system. These laws penalize persons under 21 for operating a vehicle with a BAC of .00 or with negligible BAC levels such as .01 or .02 percent.

Learn more about drunk driving.


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