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District of Columbia DUI Laws

Like elsewhere in the U.S., drunk driving and driving under the influence of intoxicants is a serious crime in the District of Columbia. Even after a first offense, you may serve mandatory jail time, pay fines of up to $1,000, and lose your driving privileges for 6 months. Knowing your rights and legal options can significantly affect your outcome if you are arrested for DUI.

The following information will give you a general overview of Washington, D.C., DUI laws.

Washington D.C. DUI Laws: Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits and Implied Consent

"Per Se" BAC Limit 0.08%
Zero Tolerance (Underage) BAC Limit 0.00%
Enhanced Penalty (Aggravated) BAC Limit 0.20%
Implied Consent to Submit to BAC Test? Yes

Washington D.C. DUI Laws: Select Penalties

Minimum License Suspension or Revocation (1st, 2nd, 3rd offense) 6 months, 1 year, 2 years
Mandatory Alcohol Education, Assessment and Treatment Yes, with IID
Vehicle Confiscation Possible? No
Ignition Interlock Device Possible? Yes

Note: State intoxicated driving laws are always changing through legislative, judicial, or other means. While FindLaw works hard to ensure the accuracy of its legal resources, it's a good idea to thoroughly research the law or check with an attorney to ensure you have the most recent information.


Under Washington, D.C., laws, prosecutors can charge you for driving under the influence if you are in a motor vehicle, watercraft, or any motorized mobility device. This includes, but isn't limited to, scooters, wheelchairs, and golf carts. Washington, D.C., also bans operating horse-driven vehicles while under the influence.

You don't have to be driving, either. The laws state you only need to be in physical control of the vehicle. This can mean you're in the car but not moving or asleep inside the vehicle and have the keys. Physical control is up for interpretation by the officer and the courts. This may be an issue your defense attorney can challenge.

Washington, D.C., DUI laws recognize three types of impaired driving offenses:

  • Driving while intoxicated (DWI)
  • Operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI)
  • Underage DWI

Separate blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels define each, as well as the presence of intoxicating or controlled substances.

Driving While Intoxicated

When a police officer suspects you are driving under the influence, they will subject you to chemical tests and field sobriety tests. Chemical tests may consist of a Breathalyzer, blood, and urine testing. If you have a BAC level of 0.08% or higher, you are per se intoxicated. This means the prosecution needs no further evidence that you are under the influence.

You can also face a DWI charge if your chemical tests show the presence of Schedule 1 controlled substances, such as cocaine, methadone, codeine, or morphine.

If you are driving a commercial vehicle, a DWI charge needs only a BAC of 0.04%. Commercial vehicles include buses and vehicles that transport goods. You will lose your commercial driver's license (CDL) for 18 months. You need to retest to gain it back once your license revocation period is over.

Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated

An OWI, sometimes called a DUI, is a slightly lesser offense than a DWI. You do not have to be above the legal limit to risk arrest with an OWI.

If your blood alcohol level reads 0.07% to 0.05%, but you display signs of intoxication, you can get an OWI charge. These other signs include your performance on field sobriety tests and observations of your behavior by the officer and witnesses.

Underage DWI

Washington, D.C., has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving or driving under the influence of intoxicating substances. Any measurable amount of alcohol or drugs in your system will see you arrested for a DWI. Penalties for conviction are the same as if you were an adult. You may have jail time served in a juvenile facility if you are under 18.


Driving under the influence carries severe penalties. You face jail time, fines, and loss of your driver's license, in addition to other consequences. You may have to complete community service hours, undergo alcohol and drug treatment, and serve probation.

Excessive alcohol in your system or any amount of drugs will add a sentence enhancement. You also face additional jail time and more fines if a minor is in your vehicle during your arrest.


Penalties for a first-offense DWI conviction can be up to 180 days in jail, a fine of $1,000, and 12 points assessed to your license. Your driver's license suspension is for six months, and you will need to retest once this period has expired. If you qualify, you must install an ignition interlock device (IID) for six months.

If your BAC is excessive, you must serve a mandatory jail period. For a first offense, you will serve:

  • BAC of 0.20%: 10 days
  • BAC of 0.25%: 15 days
  • BAC of 0.30%: 20 days

A second offense of DWI increases your fine to between $2,500 and $5,000, one year in jail, with 10 days mandatory. Your license revocation is for 1 year. You must maintain an IID on your vehicle for 1 year. The presence of excessive alcohol will subject you to additional penalties.

A blood or urine analysis that detects a controlled substance or illegal drugs imposes a mandatory minimum amount of 15 days in jail, even for a first-time offender. A second offense increases jail time to 20 days.

If you refuse to cooperate with chemical tests and field sobriety tests, your license revocation is for at least 1 year. If you have refused these tests before, you lose your license for 2 years in any jurisdiction.

A judge can add other requirements to your sentence. They may have you complete an alcohol and drug treatment program and community service hours.


For a first-time OWI conviction, you are subject to a fine of $500 and 90 days in jail.

For a second OWI, you will serve a mandatory minimum of 5 days of jail time, with a possibility of one year. Your fine is $1,000 to $2,500. Subsequent offenses will increase your mandatory jail time to 10 days, with one year possible and up to $5,000 in fines.

If you have 2 or more OWI or DUI offenses within 3 years, your license revocation is for at least 5 years. You may apply to have your driving privileges returned after 5 years if you can show good reason for your reinstatement.

Mandatory Ignition Interlock Device (IID) Program

The District of Columbia requires anyone with an OWI or DUI conviction to install an IID in their vehicle. The device measures the driver's BAC with a breathalyzer-like device, allowing the car to start only after a sober sample. To be eligible for the program, you must:

  • Have a conviction of DWI, OWI, or some other drug- or alcohol-related offense
  • Have no additional pending suspensions or revocations
  • Be enrolled in or have completed a substance abuse treatment program
  • Complete the application
  • Get SR22 high-risk insurance
  • Have the IID installed by an approved vendor

Out-of-state drivers with limited IID licenses may convert to a Washington, D.C., IID-restricted license.

District of Columbia DUI Resources

Staring Down a District of Columbia DUI Charge? An Attorney Can Help

Moderate alcohol consumption and driving are common activities in the U.S. Combining the two is a recipe for tragedy. DWI defendants face stiff penalties, costly fines, and other burdensome consequences even if no one is injured or killed.

The best way to protect your rights and get the best outcome is to contact an experienced Washington, D.C., DUI attorney.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex DUI situations usually require a lawyer
  • DUI defense attorneys can challenge Breathalyzer/Intoxilyzer or blood test results
  • A lawyer can seek to reduce or eliminate DUI penalties
  • A lawyer can help get your license back

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