North Carolina State Laws and Requirements

Any time you’re convicted of a DWI it’s a serious offense. This is no less true in the state of North Carolina. A DWI charge in North Carolina could cost you more than just fines. It could even cost you your license and freedom. Penalties for DWI charges in the state range from hefty fines to license forfeiture and lengthy prison sentences depending on a variety of circumstances and factors. While every situation is different, here are some of the common scenarios that drivers in North Carolina experience when convicted with a DWI charge.


Is it Legal to Drive? BAC Levels and Legality in North Carolina


Depending on how old you are and whether or not you’re driving commercially, you’ll be subjected to a variety of laws regarding how much alcohol you’re allowed to have in your body while driving in North Carolina. Your blood alcohol content, or BAC, is measured when you’re stopped by the police, and depending on what it reads you’ll either be let go or charged with driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated. Here are the standard accepted BAC levels in the state of North Carolina.


  • Under 21 – If you’re under 21, there’s a zero tolerance policy in for drinking and driving sine you’re not legally allowed to be drinking in the first place. That means if your BAC test shows 0.01% blood alcohol content, you can be charged with a DWI.
  • 21 and over – If you test at 0.08% or higher, you’ll be charged with a DWI.
  • Commercial – Driving a commercial vehicle is a different situation and subject to stricter limits. If your BAC shows 0.04% BAC or higher, you will be charged with a DWI.

Circumstantial DWI Laws in North Carolina


The penalties you face for a DWI in North Carolina largely depends on how many prior convictions you have, your BAC level at the time of arrest, and other factors. Each situation is individual, however, here are some basic minimum penalties you’ll likely be subjected to if you are convicted of a DWI in North Carolina.

First Offense


The first time you’re convicted of a DWI, you’ll face slightly more lenient penalties than you would if you were a repeat offender. However, the penalties imposed upon you can still be quite stiff and could change your life in substantial ways.


  • Possible Jail time lasting from 24 hours to a year minimum.
  • License suspension to last from 30 days to a year. If you refuse the BAC test, you’ll be subjected to an automatic license suspension of a year.
  • Fines starting at $200.
  • IID installationif your BAC measured at 0.15% or higher.

Second Offense


The second time you’re convicted of a DWI in North Carolina, you’ll be subjected to the same types of punishments, but they will, as you might expect, be harsher.


  • Possible Jail timelasting from four days to a one-year minimum.
  • Fines ranging from $500 to $10,000 depending on the level of your conviction and other factors.
  • License suspensionof 1-4 years depending on how recent your last conviction was.
  • Mandatory IID installation. installation if prior conviction within 7 years.

Third Offense


After your third offense, you’ll have to face some combination of (or all of) the following punishments and penalties.


  • Jail time ranging from 14 days all the way up to a two-year minimum depending on the level of your charge and the number of aggravated factors present.
  • Fines up to $10,000 depending on the level of your charge and the number of aggravated factors present.
  • License suspension of one year to permanent suspension depending on whether or not your previous conviction was within five years.
  • Mandatory IID installation depending on prior convictions, to last for one to seven years, but only if you get your license restored to you, which is not a guarantee.



Limited Privileges in North Carolina


In the state of North Carolina, you may be eligible for limited driving privileges depending on your case. In other words, rather than face a total suspension or revocation of your driving privileges after a DWI conviction, you might be able to have some of those privileges restored. However, it’s almost certain that you’ll have to install an ignition interlock device, or IID, if your BAC was equal to or greater than 0.15% in order to gain those privileges. Talk to your attorney and see if you might be able to obtain limited driving privileges in exchange for having an IID installed in your vehicle.

IID Installation in North Carolina


If you’ve been ordered to install an IID, you will usually have been ordered via the Department of Motor Vehicles or the court. It’s critical that you have your IID installation done by a North Carolina-approved vendor. If you go to a vendor that is not state-approved, they won’t be able to provide proof of installation, they won’t be able to report to the DMV and other judicial bodies, and nothing that happens thereafter will count towards your progress.


Just because you install an IID doesn’t mean you automatically have your driving privileges back, though. You’ll still have to go through legal proceedings that may or may not require you to obtain a special restricted driver’s license in order to drive.


While the information reflected here is current as of this writing, laws do change from time to time and unique circumstances may change the penalties and requirements that you’re subject to.


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