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Nicholas W.

William R.

Criminal Defense Experience - 40+ Years

Is buzzed driving the same as drunk driving?

A couple goes out on a dinner date, and the driver has a couple glasses of wine. On the way home, a police officer pulls them over. The driver feels a little buzzed from the wine, but should he or she worry about getting arrested and charged with driving under the influence (DUI)?

A DUI first offense can result in fines, suspended license, programs and possible custody. When a first offense can threaten so much, drivers should understand the term “drunk driving” is really misleading as it pertains to DUI laws. California DUI laws simply require .08 or more BA (blood alcohol) at the time of driving OR a showing the driver was impaired physically or mentally so they are “no longer able to drive a motor vehicle with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances” as DUI California Criminal Jury Instructions state. You do not have to be “drunk” or even over the .08 BA if it is proved you were impaired.

Is there a difference between buzzed and drunk driving?

Short Answer: NO. To be safe, assume that you are under the influence for purposes of driving if you feel a buzz or other effects of the alcohol. You still may be under the influence at a BA lower than .08. There is a rebuttable presumption that you are impaired at .08 BA or more and a rebuttable presumption you are not under the influence below .05 B.A. Individuals at .05 BA and above are usually arrested and charged with DUI. The officer makes the call based on the observed driving, field sobriety tests (FST), physical indications and breath or blood test. When you make a choice to drive after one or two alcoholic drinks and feel a “buzz”, you are probably impaired for purposes of driving and at higher risk of being in an accident or arrested for DUI if pulled over by law enforcement. A “buzz” may occur at levels under .08 BA and can vary with the individual. Alcohol impairs a driver’s judgment and slows their reflexes, both are needed for safe driving.

Defending against drunk driving charges

In California, there are significant minimum penalties for DUI if convicted, even with a low BA. These penalties can be greatly increased with allegations of high blood alcohol level (.15 or more BA), kids in the car at the time, high speed, and refusal to take tests. Other aggravating factors that are considered include if there was an accident, attitude with the officer, observed driving, license status, if underage and field sobriety tests etc.

There are possible defenses to DUI charges which can vary based on the differing facts of each case. Some of these issues could include driving, reason for the contact, testing, impairment level, rising B.A. level at time of test, etc. The stronger the defense issues, the more likely a lesser charge or penalty could be negotiated short of trial. The most common reasons to be able to resolve a case with a lesser charge or penalty are a low B.A, good FSTs, cooperative, no accident or reckless driving, no significant prior record and other mitigating factors concerning the individual defendant and impact of conviction.

A “buzz” from alcohol is the “canary in the coal mine” for driving under the influence

To be a safe driver, avoid accidents and possible arrest for driving under the influence, you should be warned if you feel any effects from alcohol, that you are likely impaired and reminded “buzzed driving” is “drunk driving.”  It is far more prudent to have a designated driver or call Uber or Lyft for that ride home.

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