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Pennsylvania Drunk Driving Laws

Pennsylvania Drunk Driving Laws
Under Pennsylvania drunk driving laws, a number of actions warrant a “driving under the influence” (DUI) charge—a fact that many drivers do not realize. Unfortunately, because these laws identify drunk drivers based on blood alcohol content (BAC), it’s not uncommon for individuals to assume they are capable of driving when they are actually considered impaired in the eyes of the law. Fortunately, by understanding the state’s stringent BAC guidelines, you can avoid facing the potentially life-altering impact of a drunk driving conviction.

If a member of law enforcement believes a driver may be under the influence of alcohol, chemical testing may be used to determine his or her BAC. Depending on the circumstances, either a breathalyzer or blood or urine test may be administered. In Pennsylvania, it is illegal for a driver to refuse any type of chemical test, and failing to comply with the officer’s request will automatically lead to an arrest.

From a legal perspective, anyone who has a BAC of 0.08% or higher is unfit to operate a vehicle, and can be charged with DUI if a chemical test reveals he or she has a BAC above this limit. However, drivers under 21 and those who operate commercial vehicles are subjected to even lower BAC limits—0.02% and 0.04%, respectively.

Assuming you are 21 and operate a standard-sized vehicle, the severity of your charge will be based on the exact amount of alcohol found in your bloodstream.  Under state law, a driver’s BAC can fall into one of three categories: lowest penalty, higher penalty, and highest penalty. For a blood alcohol content of 0.08 to 0.999%, the charge will be classified as a “lowest penalty” offense. Meanwhile, a BAC of 0.10 to 0.159% is considered a “higher penalty” charge, and a BAC of 0.16% or higher is treated as a “highest penalty” offense. 

If you are a first-time offender, the sentence for a “lowest penalty” charge includes a $300 fine and six months of probation. If your crime falls into one of the other two categories, you will face much harsher penalties, including a $5,000 fine, one-year license suspension, and up to a six-month jail sentence. For a “highest penalty” DUI conviction, however, the judge may also require you to have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle and/or complete a court-approved driver’s education program. And, regardless of the category of your offense, the penalties will only increase with each subsequent DUI conviction.   

In light of the penalties that follow a DUI conviction, it’s more important than ever for you to obtain legal counsel if you are arrested for drunk driving in Pennsylvania. With the right legal strategy, you may be able to avoid many of the consequences listed above or even get your charges dismissed altogether.