Driving While Intoxicated on Drugs in North Carolina

Driving while impaired (DWI) is commonly associated with alcohol. While law enforcement agencies nationwide made strides to shed light on this issue, the term drunk driving was coined to refer to motorists who are caught driving while under the influence of alcohol. But over the course of the last decade, a spike in drug and substance-related DWIs has prompted policymakers and police departments to focus on drug impairment while behind the wheel - recently labeled as “drugged driving.”

North Carolina is one of the many states that has placed an emphasis on aggressively enforcing drug DWI laws by imposing harsh penalties for motorists convicted of this crime. Even first-time convicted offenders in the state have been known to be penalized with mandatory jail sentences and costly fines.

North Carolina's Drugged Driving Laws

According to North Carolina law, operating a vehicle while under the influence of an “impairing substance” is prohibited. Unlike alcohol impairment, drug impairment cannot be quickly determined by roadside tests or a breathalyzer. Thereby, proving impairment is only possible through the examination of a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) and chemical testing. If the results indicate that the following substances were consumed and have, in fact, impaired a motorist while operating a vehicle, a person may be convicted of a drug DWI:

  • A controlled substance (heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana etc.);
  • Any psychoactive substance or drug capable of impairing an individual's “physical or mental faculties”;
  • Any combination of these substances.

An impairing substance is so broadly defined in state statutes that a number of prescription drugs and medications may fall under its definition. However, whether certain prescription drugs qualify as impairing substances is completely dependent on their probable effect on a person's body.

Drug DWI Penalties

A drug DWI could be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of a person's arrest. Misdemeanor offenses are charged by “levels” that a judge will determine based on the factors like your driving record, chemical testing results, prior offenses and other details related to your DWI.

The least serious DWI charge, which is classified as a level five misdemeanor, is punishable by a fine of up to $200 and a minimum jail sentence of at least 24 hours. The most serious misdemeanor DWI charge, which is a level one misdemeanor, is punishable by a fine up to $4,000 and a minimum jail sentence of 30 days.

Felony DWIs carry much more severe penalties. People who acquire this charge are habitual offenders, drivers who have had three prior drug or alcohol DWI convictions within the last seven years.

Experienced North Carolina DWI Defense Attorneys

As you can see, being charged with a DWI in North Carolina is a pretty serious offense. This is why it's important that you act accordingly by hiring a skilled attorney who is well-versed in the state's DWI laws. The legal professionals at Caulder & Valentine have extensive experience defending clients who have been in this situation and have successfully had their penalty reduced or their case completely dismissed. Don't hesitate to contact us today for a consultation.


Shelby Office
303 West Marion Street
Shelby, NC 28150
704.754.8401 (fax)
Gastonia Office
316 S Chester St
Gastonia, NC 28052
704.754.8401 (fax)