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Ohio’s Drunk Driving Laws

Ohio Department of Public Safety figures indicate 7,840 people were killed and 345,441 were injured in 413,830 alcohol-related crashes in Ohio from 1986 to 2000—an average of 523 deaths, 22,507 injuries and 27,589 crashes annually. Nationally, alcohol-related deaths increased for the first time in five years—16,653 lives were lost in 2000 from drunken-driving, up from the 15,976 deaths in 1999. Major reforms were enacted in 1993 making Ohio’s drunk driving laws some of the toughest in the country. Additional laws passed in 1996 and 2000 aimed at repeat drunk driving offenders.

A key provision of Ohio’s DUI law is administrative license suspension (ALS). Under the law (effective September 1, 1993), any motorist stopped for drunk driving who refuses to take the sobriety test or whose test results exceed the legal limit of .10% Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) will have his/her license taken administratively on the spot, with suspension effective immediately. Depending on previous offenses, the ALS period can range from 90 days to five years.

On criminal citations, a court of law may also impose additional penalties or license suspension at the judge’s discretion.

How ALS works

If a person is stopped and arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and either fails or refuses a blood alcohol or chemical test, the officer seizes the offender’s drivers license on the spot, serves notice of suspension and sends the offender’s drivers license to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV).

The time period that the BMV administratively suspends the offender’s driving privileges is shown in the chart on this page. The offender can appeal the suspension orally at the initial court appearance (held within five days of arrest). At the requested appeal hearing, the court addresses the following issues (burden of proof is on the defendant):

  • Was the arrest based on reasonable grounds?
  • Did the officer request the violator to take a test?
  • Was the violator made aware of the consequences if he/she refused or failed the test?
  • Did the violator refuse or fail the test?

If the court replies “yes” to all of these questions, then the court affirms the suspension. If the court replies “no” to any of the questions, then the court terminates the suspension and reinstates driving privileges to the alleged offender. If the court determines the offender is a threat to public safety, even if the above questions are answered “no,” the offender may receive a judicial suspension.

Fines, jail time and penalties

Based on previous DUI offenses, fines range from $200 to $10,000. Jail time ranges from three days to one year. Fines and jail sentences are as follows:

  • First offense: Fine—$200 to $1,000; ALS for 90 days for .10% BAC or above; ALS for test refusal is one year license suspension; Jail—minimum of three consecutive days or three-day driver intervention program; Court license suspension is six months to three years
  • Second offense: Fine—$300 to $1,500; ALS for one year for .10% BAC or above; ALS for test refusal is a two-year license suspension; Jail—minimum of 10 consecutive days or five days plus minimum of 18 consecutive days of electronically monitored house arrest (EMHA), up to a maximum of six months; Discretionary driver’s intervention program; Vehicle immobilization and plates impounded for 90 days; Court license suspension is one to five years
  • Third offense: Fine—$500 to $2,500; ALS for two years for .10% BAC or above; ALS for test refusal is a three-year license suspension; Jail—minimum of 30 consecutive days to one year—Alternative sentence is 15 days of jail plus a minimum of 55 consecutive days of EMHA combined, up to a maximum of one year; Mandatory attendance in an alcohol treatment program paid for by offender; Vehicle forfeiture for a third OMVI conviction within six years; Court license suspension is one to ten years
  • Fourth offense or more or motor vehicle-related felony: Fine—$750 to $10,000; ALS for three years for .10% BAC or above; ALS for test refusal is a five-year license suspension; Jail—minimum of 60 consecutive days to one year; Mandatory drug/alcohol treatment program paid for by offender; Vehicle forfeiture—mandatory criminal forfeiture of vehicle operated by offender, imposed by the court; Court license suspension is three years to permanent revocation

Driving under DUI suspension

When driving under a DUI suspension or driving under suspension without insurance/proof of financial responsibility, the court is authorized to order vehicle immobilization and impoundment of the license plates at the time of sentencing.

The penalties for such conduct, based on convictions within a five-year period, are:

  • First offense: 30 days
  • Second offense: 60 days
  • Third offense: Forfeit vehicle

Note: For multiple DUI offenders under suspension, the court may also impound the plates of any other vehicle owned by the offender. Also, if forfeiture occurs, the offender cannot register or title any vehicle in his or her name for five years.

Ohio Supreme Court activity

In July 1996 the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Administrative License Suspension (ALS) portion of Ohio’s drunk driving law, which allows for the immediate suspension of the license of a person stopped for drunk driving and either refusing to take a blood alcohol content test or taking the test and failing.

However, the court voided a provision of the drunk driving law that permitted the state to seize the vehicle without a prior hearing when the driver was not the owner.

Recent Ohio DUI legislation

  • Senate Bill 166 (SB 166)—effective October 17, 1996—specifies drunk drivers indicted on a fourth or subsequent offense within a six-year period to be charged as felons. Aimed at repeat offenders—those who continue to drink and drive. SB 166 also requires local incarceration of 60 days and a $10,000 fine for fourth-time offenders. Drivers convicted of five or more DUIs receive prison terms of six to 18 months. Another provision requires the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to establish “Intensive Program Prisons,” to provide treatment for alcoholism to certain offenders while serving their prison terms.
  • Senate Bill 22 (SB 22)—effective May 17, 2000—doubles the minimum jail time for drunk drivers with a 0.17% BAC level. A first time offender’s minimum jail stay jumps from three to six days—with jail time being longer for subsequent offenses. The bill also places a maximum of 30 months on prison terms for convicted drivers.
  • House Bill 80 (HB 80)—effective June 8, 2000—persons convicted of OMVI three times within six years forfeit their vehicle to the state (previously, vehicle forfeiture occurred after a fourth offense).

2001 National DUI standards

The Transportation Appropriations Act of 2001 specifies that all states are required to adopt a national standard of .08 BAC by 2004. States not adopting this .08 BAC standard face penalties which include the loss of federal highway trust fund money ranging from 2–8% (percent is determined depending on how soon after 2004 the standard is adopted). The fund collects money from a 4.3% federal gasoline tax and distributes it to states for building highways, bridges and other infrastructures.

The following states have already established the .08 BAC standard: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, DC, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

Blood Alcohol Concentration

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is a measure of the amount of alcohol in the body. Blood alcohol is measured directly through testing blood or indirectly through tests that use breath, urine or saliva.

Note: Alcohol consumption affects individuals differently. Information provided on these pages should be viewed as generalizations only.

Figure 1

Numerous factors, including weight, sex, amount of food in the digestive tract and time spent drinking, affect an individual’s absorption of alcohol. BAC levels and the number of “typical” drinks required to reach them have been roughly estimated in Figure 1, “Blood Alcohol Content and ‘Typical’ Drinks.” The chart suggests that after drinking three drinks in one hour, a male of 160 pounds will reach a BAC of .05%, whereas a female of 120 pounds will reach a BAC of .06%.

Figure 1: Blood Alcohol Content and “Typical” Drinks
(In one hour of drinking)

Figure 2

Most people will be noticeably drunk by the time their BAC reaches .10%. Even though some drinkers appear to be in control of themselves, they nevertheless have lost crucial driving abilities, as illustrated in Figure 2, “Blood Alcohol Content and Skills Impairment.”

Figure 2: Blood Alcohol Content and Skills Impairment

Figure 3

The chances for becoming involved in a crash begins to rise at BAC .04% to .05% and increases rapidly thereafter, as seen in Figure 3, “Blood Alcohol Content and Crash Risk.” By the time a driver reaches a BAC of .06%, the motorist is twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash as a nondrinking driver. And at levels of .10%, a driver is 12 times more likely than a nondrinking driver to be involved in a fatal crash.

Figure 3: Blood Alcohol Content and Crash Risk

62% of Americans have been driven home by a designated driver at least once.
(Kupper Parker Communications survey, USA Today, 12/28/01)




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