In this article, you discover what it means to be legally drunk in Georgia? We will also discuss how you can be charged with DUI even if you are found not to be legally drunk in Georgia.
LEGALLY DRUNK IN GEORGIA BY THE NUMBERS
Georgia law creates three different legal limits for alcohol concentration in the body when driving or being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle. For drivers under 21, the legal limit is .02 grams. For drivers 21 and over the legal limit is .08 grams. For drivers of commercial vehicles the legal limit is .04 grams.
Whichever category you fall into, if you drive or are just in physical control of a motor vehicle with an alcohol concentration above the legal limit then you can be convicted of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) per se.
The legal limit for alcohol concentration while driving does not necessarily correlate to being “drunk.” For one, everyone’s definition of “drunk” varies depending on their personal experiences and their views on alcohol. There are many people who would not consider themselves or their friend or neighbor “drunk” at a .08 alcohol level.
Particularly if you have developed a high tolerance for alcohol, you may look and act pretty sober with an alcohol concentration just above the legal limit. And we can all agree that the lower legal limits of .04 for commercial vehicles and .02 for people under 21 certainly do not correlate with being “drunk.” Since persons under age 21 are not legally allowed to buy or possess alcoholic beverages outside of their parents’ home, the .02 limit is just an effort to allow for residual legal alcohol consumption in products such as mouthwash.
SO IF BEING ABOVE THESE LEGAL LIMITS DOESN’T NECESSARILY MEAN YOU’RE DRUNK, WHY ARE THESE LEVELS ESTABLISHED AS THE LEGAL LIMITS IN GEORGIA?
The .08 legal limit was imposed upon all 50 states by Congress during the Clinton Administration. The federal government relying on research it contends shows most people exhibit noticeable physical and cognitive impairment at an alcohol concentration of .08 grams used its ability to compel change through threatened withholding of federal highway funding to force all states to lower their legal limit to .08 in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
There is a movement afoot in recent years led by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and others to further lower the legal limit to .05. Utah earlier this year became the first state to pass a law lowering its legal limit to .05. Other states are considering following suit. This is important to be aware of because a lower legal limit would make it even more likely that one could be above the legal limit and not feel “drunk.”
WHY WOULD STATES CONSIDER AN EVEN LOWER LEGAL LIMIT IF SOME PEOPLE ALREADY ARE NOT “DRUNK” AT THE HIGHER CURRENT LIMIT?
DUI and DWI laws are not intended to target only “drunk” drivers. We all picture drunk drivers as the falling-down drunks you see in the TV commercials who stumble to their cars while fumbling with the keys and are unable to drive in a straight line. But that is the extreme and, fortunately, rare DUI case. DUI laws are designed to prevent and to prosecute not just drunk drivers but impaired drivers. Alcohol begins to affect the body well before an outside observer would describe a person as drunk. We use terms like “buzzed” and “tipsy” to describe the early effects of alcohol before a person arrives in “drunk” territory.
Many people after a few alcoholic drinks begin to feel an alcohol-induced “buzz.” They may not yet be over the legal limit to drive, but they still risk facing a DUI charge if they choose to drive in Georgia because being over the legal limit is only one way to violate the DUI law.
HOW CAN YOU GET A DUI IF YOU ARE NOT LEGALLY DRUNK IN GEORGIA?
Georgia’s DUI laws not only criminalize driving while being over the legal limit for alcohol but also driving while you are in any way impaired as a result of alcohol you consumed. This is what is known in Georgia as a “less safe” DUI. Georgia’s DUI law makes it a crime to drive or be in physical control of a moving vehicle if you are under the influence of alcohol to the extent you are less safe to drive than you would be if you had not consumed alcohol.
That means you can be convicted of DUI in Georgia if you drive while you are in any way adversely affected by alcohol regardless whether your alcohol concentration level is above the legal limit or not. This is what causes so many to find themselves in legal jeopardy facing a DUI charge because whether someone who has consumed alcohol is actually less safe to drive as a result is often a tough question to answer. Most people who drank only a glass or two of wine with dinner or a couple of beers at a ballgame would never think they are over the legal limit.
But in Georgia they could still be considered less safe and face all of the same penalties as they would for a DUI conviction for driving while over the legal alcohol limit. A “less safe” DUI is treated just as seriously by Georgia law as a “per se” DUI, which is the technical term for driving with an alcohol concentration (BAC) over the legal limit.
SO WHAT DETERMINES IF A PERSON IS A LESS SAFE DRIVER?
Although it carries harsh drivers license penalties, Georgia drivers have the right to refuse a police officer’s request for breath testing. Because of this, Georgia police officers know they may never know any given driver’s alcohol concentration level and are trained to look for other evidence that tends to show a driver is less safe to drive due to alcohol impairment. In every DUI investigation officers are looking for a variety of things that might support a DUI less safe charge. Those things include:
* The manner of driving (Was the driver involved in an accident? Were they weaving and unable to maintain their lane? Were they driving erratically? Etc.)
* The driver’s physical appearance and behavior (Does the driver smell like alcohol? Are their eyes bloodshot or watery? Are they unsteady on their feet? Are they slurring their words? Etc.)
* Evidence of alcohol consumption in the vehicle (Is there an open or empty bottle of an alcoholic beverage in the car? Is there a receipt showing the driver was recently at a bar? Etc.)
* Field sobriety evaluations
* Portable roadside alcohol breath tests
Officers conducting DUI investigations will first attempt to gather as much of this evidence as possible to see if they have probable cause to believe the person is a less safe driver. The more evidence an officer sees to suggest a driver is less safe to drive because of alcohol impairment the more likely the officer is to make an arrest and request a breath test to see if the person is over the legal limit. But the arrest decision is made based on the evidence of a less safe DUI charge before the officer knows the driver’s actual BAC.
The separate DUI charge for driving while over the legal limit comes later if the driver agrees to take the state breath test and blows over the legal limit. Because the case starts out as a DUI less safe charge though, the driver is not necessarily out of the woods if they blow below the legal limit.
Plenty of prosecutors will still pursue a DUI less safe charge when testing shows the person was below the legal limit if the officer’s observations suggest the person was under the influence of alcohol to the extent they were less safe to drive than they otherwise would have been.
So while the legal limit for alcohol and the question of what is legally drunk in Georgia gets a lot of attention, it is important to remember that driving with a BAC over the legal limit is not the only way to get a DUI in Georgia. If you are planning to drink away from home having a designated driver or using a ride share service is always the safest bet. And if you have consumed alcohol and in any way still feel the effects of it, you should never take the risk of getting behind the wheel.