Could North Carolina Lower the Legal Limit for Drunk Driving?

Posted by Josh Valentine | Dec 09, 2019

For a long time, every state in the country had the same legal limit for impaired drivers, including North Carolina. A driver is over the limit if he or she had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. However, Utah has recently lowered its legal limit to 0.05% BAC and other states are considering similar laws. Will North Carolina lower the legal limit for drunk driving to the new lower standard? If you are facing a DUI in North Carolina, contact Caulder & Valentine Law Firm, PLLC, for a consultation.

United Under One BAC

Each state regulates its own drunk driving laws and historically, different states had different BAC limits for driving under the influence (DUI). Some states had a limit of 0.08%, while others were as high as 0.15%. Based on the state's research, North Carolina lowered the BAC limit from 0.10% to 0.08% on October 1, 1993.

Later, a federal transportation bill required states to have a minimum BAC standard of 0.08% by 2003. The last five states to lower their BAC were Minnesota, Colorado, Delaware, New Jersey, and West Virginia. 

National Transportation Safety Board Recommends Lower Limit

In 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made a recommendation to, “establish a per se blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of 0.05 or lower for all drivers who are not already required to adhere to lower BAC limits.” 

According to the NTSB, their recommendation was based on findings that crash risk is elevated by the time the driver's BAC reaches 0.05% and data shows that lowering the BAC reduces accidents, injuries, and deaths.

Utah Made the First Move to Lower BACs 

On December 30, 2018, Utah lowered its BAC limit from 0.08% to 0.05%. So far, the Utah Highway Patrol has reported a significant decrease in alcohol-related accidents and fatal DUI accidents. 

A number of other states have considered or have lawmakers proposing laws to lower the BAC to meet the NTSB's recommendations. These states include Michigan, New York, Hawaii, California, and Washington

Drivers in North Carolina Can Face a DUI With a BAC Under the Legal Limit

A BAC of 0.08% or higher for most drivers is enough to be convicted of drunk driving in North Carolina. However, a BAC of lower than 0.08% does not mean the driver cannot be charged with impaired driving. There are separate parts of North Carolina's DUI laws, which provide: 

A person commits the offense of impaired driving if he drives any vehicle upon a highway, any street, or any public vehicular area within this State: 

  1. While under the influence of an impairing substance; or 
  2. After having consumed sufficient alcohol that he has, at any relevant time after the driving, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more. 

If the prosecutor can show the driver was “under the influence of an impairing substance,” even with a BAC lower than 0.08%, the driver can be convicted of a DUI.

Lower BAC Limits Still Have Accuracy Problems

As we wrote in a prior blog, Unreliable DWI Breath Testing Can Put You in Jail. Lowering the state's BAC to 0.05% would not help innocent drivers who use an uncalibrated breath testing device that gives an inaccurate result. A driver who has one beer with dinner and has a BAC below 0.05% could test over the limit with a tainted chemical test, facing criminal charges, loss of driver's license, and higher insurance rates. 

If you were arrested for drunk driving, your North Carolina DWI lawyer will make sure your rights are protected. At Caulder & Valentine Law Firm, PLLC, we have helped drivers and their families deal with criminal driving charges to stay out of jail and keep their driver's license. Contact us today in Shelby for a consultation.

About the Author

Josh Valentine

You could say Josh has a God-given ability for sustaining long-term relationships. He and his wife first met in elementary school and went to Gardner Webb University (GWU) together, where they tied for number 1 in their class. Then, they both started law school on the same day of their graduation and got married during their first semester. He has also known his law partner Blake Caulder since Kindergarten. Theirs is the perfect partnership. “He’s the brake; I am the accelerator,” Josh says. Both Josh and his wife attended an innovative program at Charlotte Law School that allowed them to complete law school in two years instead of the typical three. His wife graduated and passed the North Carolina bar at age 20, becoming one of the youngest attorneys in the state. He readily admits she’s smarter than him. Of course, Josh went on to pass the North Carolina State Bar himself and later the South Carolina State Bar. While in school, he was Associate Editor of the Law Review and received accolades like Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society membership, Order of the Crown, Pro Bono Honors, CALI Awards (highest grade). In his career as a lawyer, he has been admitted to the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, is a member of the American Association of Premier DUI Attorneys, and completed training for DWI Detection & Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. Josh has also been named to the Top 40 Under 40 for Criminal Defense by The National Trial Lawyers, the Business North Carolina 2019 Legal Elite for Criminal Defense, and the 10 Best Attorneys for Client Satisfaction by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys three years in a row (2016, 2017, and 2018). Community involvement has been important to Josh all his life. In high school, he participated in building a Holocaust museum that has become internationally regarded. He and his wife are actively engaged in animal rescue, which currently means seven cats and two kittens. He served in prison ministry and assisted with fundraiser banquets there, and he provides pro bono and reduced fee legal services to those in need. As if all of that weren’t enough, Josh also mentors high risk youth and helps with his church’s youth group. He participates in other community volunteer projects involving construction, remodeling, drywall, painting, and landscaping. He’s an active student of the Bible and has traveled to Israel, Brazil, and Europe for mission work. No one can say Josh isn’t a well-rounded individual. In his spare time, he likes to play softball, basketball, and tennis, and he can play the piano and trombone. Sometimes on weekends, believe it or not, he enjoys pouring and finishing concrete with friends who own a concrete and grading business. In his law practice, Josh has made it a point to develop positive relationships with officers, clerks, and district attorneys, which has proven invaluable in delivering positive results for his clients. It’s important to him to both listen to his clients and fight for them. Law enforcement officers have important responsibilities to keep our communities safe and uphold the law, but one of the responsibilities of attorneys is to make sure officers do their job correctly. Josh considers it his job to hold them accountable for their actions. Josh is a person of deep faith. He knows that the established order of our universe and strength of America’s Judeo-Christian influenced court system is built on God’s word. His passion to serve each client with innovation, excellence and integrity is a byproduct of his faith. When asked why he became a lawyer, Josh says, “All through my life, I have personally witnessed family members and very close friends endure divorce, child custody battles, bankruptcy, civil lawsuits, and even fraudulent criminal accusations. I both saw and experienced the stress such events can place on an individual, and I realized that everyone, at some point in their life, needs hope, comfort, and encouragement. In each one of those situations, the person who was best situated to provide that vital support was their lawyer. So that’s why I became an attorney. I understand what you are going through, and I’m here to help you. Our office is focused on meeting your needs and guiding you through what may be the most difficult time of your life.” Education: Charlotte School of Law J.D., Magna Cum Laude Class Rank – 21 of 328 Associate Editor of Charlotte School of Law Law Review Certification and Concentration in Employment Law Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society Order of the Crown Pro Bono Honors CALI Awards (Highest Grade)—Lawyering Process I and Contracts I Full Scholarship Gardner-Webb University B.S. in Accounting, Summa Cum Laude Distinguished Senior Student Award – Highest GPA Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honorary Society Bar Admissions: North Carolina State Bar