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Ohio’s Drunk Driving Laws

Ohio Department of Public Safety figures indicate 1,975 people were killed and 73,536 were injured in 102,271 alcohol-related crashes in Ohio from 1998 to 2002—an average of 395 deaths, 14,707 injuries and 20,454 crashes annually. Nationally, alcohol-related deaths have been increasing each year since 1999. In 2002, 41% of the 42,815 US motor vehicle fatalities were alcohol-related. This translates to 17,419 deaths, or an average of one alcohol-related fatality every 30 minutes in the US.

On January 1, 2004 Ohio adopted a new OVI (Operating a Vehicle under the Influence) violation. It replaces violations for DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and OMVI (Operating a Motor Vehicle under the Influence).

Administrative License Suspension (ALS)

Ohio’s drunk driving laws are swift and sure with license surrender occurring on-the-spot and suspension starting immediately. Under the ALS 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 .08% 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. The administrative suspension is independent of any jail term, fine or other criminal penalty imposed in court for an OVI offense.

How ALS works

If a person is stopped and arrested for OVI 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 below. The court must hold the ALS hearing, if requested, 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. If the court determines the offender is a threat to public safety, even if the questions are answered “no,” the offender may receive a judicial suspension.

Fines, jail time and penalties

Based on previous OVI offenses, fines range from $250 to $10,000. Jail time ranges from three days to one year. Click here for fines and jail sentences for repeat offenses within six years of the first violation. Note: The chart summarizes some major changes to the laws—it does not detail all provisions of Ohio’s OVI laws.

Limited driving privileges and restricted license plates

New provisions of Ohio OVI laws provide courts an option to grant limited driving privileges after a specified “hard time” suspension has been completed by the offender. If privileges are granted, restricted plates are required to be used on the offender’s vehicle if titled in his/her name. Ohio’s restricted plates are yellow with red letters.

Driving under OVI suspension

When Driving Under Suspension (DUS) for OVI or DUS without proof of financial responsibility, the court is authorized to order vehicle immobilization and impoundment of the license plates at the time of sentencing within a five year period for:

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

Note: For multiple OVI offenders under suspension, the court may also impound the plates of any other vehicle owned by the offender.

Vehicle forfeiture

Permanent loss of a vehicle shall be ordered by the court for any of the following which occurs within five years:

  • Third offense OVI
  • Third offense or more of DUS for OVI or DUS for financial responsibility
  • First offense of driving a vehicle that is immobilized and plates impounded

Wrongful entrustment: A vehicle can no longer be seized, immobilized or forfeited unless it is registered in the driver’s name. However, a person who loans a car to someone that person knows or has reason to believe should not be driving can be held criminally liable for wrongful entrustment, and can be jailed for up to 180 days and receive a one-year driver license suspension. In addition, the person’s vehicle can be immobilized or forfeited.

Recent Ohio OVI legislation

  • Am. Sub. House Bill 87 (HB 87)—effective July 1, 2003—contained a provision that set Ohio’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) for those 21 and older to .08% (down from .10%).

  • Senate Bill 123 (SB 123)—effective January 1, 2004—was an all-encompassing law based on recommendations of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission to simplify Ohio’s traffic code. With its enactment, penalties are now placed in the same section as the offense and terminology was created to simplify Ohio statute.

A number of sections of SB 123 affected Ohio drunk driving laws. Some of the major changes include:

  • OVI, or Operating a Vehicle under the Influence, replaces DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and OMVI (Operating a Motor Vehicle under the Influence)
  • Restricted license plates can be issued for OVI offenders
  • Vehicles can’t be seized, immobilized, or forfeited unless registered in the driver’s name, which repeals the “innocent owner” defense
  • A new “physical control” offense was created to cover being intoxicated in the driver’s position with the vehicle’s ignition key, but not driving
  • Provides consistency between OVI laws for watercraft and motor vehicles
  • Clarifies no driving privileges allowed if offender has three or more OVI convictions in six years

At press time, additional legislation was pending that could impact Ohio OVI laws.

National standards

The 2001 US Transportation Appropriations Act mandates that a portion of a state’s highway construction fund be withheld if it didn’t adopt a .08% BAC level by October 2003. Ohio adopted .08% BAC effective July 1, 2003.

Click here for "Summary of Major OVI Penalties"

Delaware was the first to ratify the US Constitution but last in the nation to cling to a .10 blood-alcohol threshold for determing intoxication. In May 2004 the governors of the other holdout states of Colorado and Minnesota signed .08 legislation into law. West Virginia and New Jersey adopted .08 in January.
(Excerpted from, 6/7/04)

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 should be viewed as generalizations only.

Figure 1

Most people will be noticeably drunk at .08% BAC. Even though some drinkers appear to be in control of themselves, they nevertheless have lost crucial driving abilities, as illustrated in Figure 1, “Blood Alcohol Content and Skills Impairment.”

Figure 2

The chances for becoming involved in a crash begins to rise at .04%–.05% BAC and increases rapidly thereafter, as seen in Figure 2, “Blood Alcohol Content and Crash Risk.” By the time a driver reaches .06% BAC, the motorist is twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash as a nondrinking driver. And at levels of .08%, a driver is three times more likely than a nondrinking driver to be involved in a fatal crash.




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