For an OWI, you likely know that the legal limit is a BAC of 0.08%. This is fairly common knowledge and a limit used in most states, though there are differences for underage drivers, commercial drivers and the like. Overall, though, the idea is that a BAC of 0.08% or more will result in drunk driving charges.
All of that is true, but did you know that you can also get an OWI if you’re under the legal limit? As noted directly by the Michigan State Police: “Drivers can be arrested at any BAC level if they exhibit signs of impairment while operating a motor vehicle.” This means that you cannot count on a breath test to get you out of drunk driving charges, even if it comes in under that limit.
Why does the law work this way?
It may seem strange to have a limit at all if you can still get arrested for being under that “limit.” What you must remember, though, is that the law really says you can’t be impaired. What’s illegal is being intoxicated enough that it makes you an unsafe driver. Regardless of your blood alcohol concentration, if it’s enough that the police believe you are a safety hazard, they can arrest you.
The role that the legal limit plays is not to get drivers out of charges if they’re under it, but to give police a line where they can assume that the driver is intoxicated. Someone who is at or above 0.08% is assumed in court to be impaired, even if they argue that they weren’t.
If you’re under that line, impairment can exist, but it can’t be assumed. For instance, an officer could use a failed field sobriety test as evidence of impairment, or he or she could point to an accident that you caused due to that impairment. The difference is that the officer has to show that impairment was a real issue, rather than just relying on your BAC to show it for them.
You need to know your legal options
If you’re facing OWI charges, especially if you’re surprised to find out how the legal limit law actually works, it’s important to know what legal options you have.