Driving While Impaired – Meaning, Standards, and Penalties

Are you using vehicle for running your business? If so, make sure you’re paying close attention to what you and your staff is doing on the road.  Specifically, your compliance with the laws and regulations related to DWI and OUI.  What are those, and why complying to those matters?


Driving while impaired (DWI) is a serious crime in the state of Massachusetts that carries with it some harsh punishments. The reason being, driving while impaired due to alcohol, which is referred to as operating under the influence (OUI) under Massachusetts law, claims the lives of over 10,000 Americans every year according to the National Highway and Safety Administration. In fact, drivers that are impaired due to alcohol consumption claimed lives at a rate of 1.8 deaths per 100,000 members of the population in Massachusetts in 2012, which means that nearly two out of every 100,000 people died that year as a result of a drunk driving accident.

However, DWI doesn’t just apply to consuming alcohol, and most of the time, one drink does not make you guilty of DWI. Mass.Gen.Laws ch.90§24 outlines the specific criteria needed to charge you with OUI by law.

Who can be Charged with OUI?

Mass. Gen.Laws ch.90§24 outlines the standard that must be met or exceeded to charge you with DWI. The three main factors a police officer has to consider when determining whether or not you should be arrested for DWI due to alcohol are as follows:

  • Age
  • Type of vehicle: commercial or non-commercial
  • Blood alcohol content (BAC)

Legal Standard for OUI in MA

The criteria has to be determined by the officer, because the standard changes by law depending on these factors. For example, any driver operating a commercial vehicle in Massachusetts cannot have a BAC higher than .04%, but an operator of a non-commercial vehicle can have a BAC of .04% and still be under the legal limit. The age, vehicle type, and BAC level needed to charge a driver with OUI is:

  • Age 21 or older operating a non-commercial vehicle: BAC .08% or higher
  • Age 21 or older operating a commercial vehicle: BAC .04% or higher
  • Under 21 years of age operating any vehicle: BAC .02%

Do DWI Laws Apply to Drugs in MA?

The DWI laws in Massachusetts do not just apply to alcohol. They also apply if you are under the influence of controlled substances such as marijuana, narcotics, depressants, or any other banned substance defined in Mass.Gen.Laws ch.94C§1, but it can be difficult for a police officer to properly charge you with OUI for drugs due to the intoxication standard. Remember, one of the things the state must prove if you are being charged with OUI is that you were intoxicated while you were driving your car, which is not always easy with narcotics.

Take marijuana for example, it is no secret that THC can linger in a person’s body and be detected by a drug test long after the marijuana has been consumed. So, if a police officer, who is not a drug recognition expert, arrests you because they suspect you are under the influence of narcotics and a drug test given to you comes back positive for marijuana, the officer has only proved that you consumed cannabis at some point, not that you were intoxicated at the time of the arrest. This a common issue for police officers with OUI arrests for drugs, and it can easily occur with a more serious substance such as cocaine or heroin.

Penalties for DWI in Massachusetts

If you have been charged with DWI in Massachusetts, you could face a harsh sentence if convicted. If it is your first OUI, you could face up to 2½ years in the house of correction, a fine between $500 to $5,000, or both. Moreover, your driver’s license will be suspended for one year. These punishments only intensify for repeat offenders.


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