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Indiana OWI Laws

Drugged and drunk driving is among the most common crimes committed in the United States. It can take the lives of the driver, passengers, other motorists, and pedestrians. That is why Indiana and other states have enacted severe penalties for driving under the influence (DUI). Indiana law refers to a DUI as "operating while intoxicated" or OWI. The acronyms are interchangeable.

Indiana OWI or DUI law imposes steep fines, driver's license suspension, and jail time, even for a first offense. You must attend a victim impact panel and other sanctions.

The penalties are severe because the stakes are so high, involving the lives of everyone who uses public roadways. Knowing the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits will help you avoid an OWI. The following information will help you understand the law and what to expect with an impaired-driving charge in Indiana.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits and Implied Consent

"Per se" BAC limit 0.08%
Zero tolerance (underage) BAC limit 0.02%
Enhanced penalty (aggravated) BAC limit 0.15%
Implied consent to submit to BAC test? Yes, one-year license suspension for refusal

Select Penalties

Minimum license suspension or revocation (first, second, third offense) 30 days to two years/180 days to two years/one to 10 years
Mandatory alcohol education, assessment, and treatment Both
Vehicle confiscation possible? Yes
Ignition interlock device possible? Yes

Disclaimer: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s).

Indiana Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated Laws

Indiana defines OWI as operating a vehicle when your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or more. The legal limit for commercial drivers is 0.04%. This is Indiana's per se OWI law. A per se law is a set BAC limit at which the law says you are too intoxicated to drive. Law enforcement will arrest you on DUI charges. Police don't need more evidence of your impairment to prove their case against you.

You also face an OWI charge if you are operating a vehicle while under the influence of a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance or its metabolite. A controlled substance can be a lawfully prescribed medication. It can also be an illegal drug, like methamphetamine or cocaine.

If a police officer suspects you are driving impaired and your BAC is below the 0.08% legal limit, they can still arrest you on suspicion of OWI. The officer needs evidence that you are too intoxicated to drive. This may come from the officer's observations of your driving, behavior during the traffic stop, and performance during field sobriety testing.

Vehicles can include motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, and farm equipment.

Implied Consent Law

If police suspect you of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they will ask you to take field sobriety tests and chemical tests. Chemical tests include a preliminary alcohol screening to gauge the amount of alcohol in your system. This is typically a Breathalyzer or breath test. A formal breath test at the police station and blood, urine, or saliva tests can follow this.

Under Indiana's implied consent law, you have already consented to chemical tests by driving on Indiana roads. You may refuse to submit to chemical testing. There are penalties for a refusal. You will lose your driving privileges for up to two years and are ineligible for a restricted license. The officer will immediately take your license, and the court will notify the BMV of your refusal. This license suspension is independent of any you may receive if convicted of OWI.

If you refuse chemical testing, police can still arrest you based on other evidence that you were driving while intoxicated.

Roadside Oral Fluid Program

In 2020, Indiana distributed nearly 70 new roadside oral fluid testing machines to law enforcement agencies across the state. The handheld device, called SoToxa, can test for six types of commonly abused drugs through an oral swab. SoToxa can identify the presence of:

  • Amphetamines
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Cannabis (THC)
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Opiates

The test takes around five minutes to complete. If you get a positive result, the officer will ask you to submit to further chemical testing.

Criminal Penalties

An OWI offense carries two sets of penalties. Criminal penalties go through the court system. Administrative penalties involve your driver's license. The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) handles this aspect.

Drunken driving charges are not eligible for diversion programs to reduce the charges.

A first-time OWI conviction that does not have any aggravating factors is a Class C misdemeanor. If convicted, your criminal sentence may include the following:

  • Up to one year in jail
  • A fine of up to $5,000
  • Up to two years suspension of driving privileges or
  • Probation with community service
  • Substance abuse assessment
  • Participation in a victim impact panel
  • Periodic urine testing for alcohol and drug use
  • Additional terms as the judge feels appropriate

A second offense within seven years can include:

  • Up to $10,000 fine
  • Up to three years in jail with five days mandatory or
  • 240 hours of community service with probation
  • Undergo a substance abuse assessment
  • Complete substance abuse education or treatment
  • Participation in a victim impact panel
  • Periodic urine testing for alcohol and drug use
  • Additional terms as the judge feels appropriate

The state will label you a habitual traffic violator if you get a third offense. These OWI charges are felonies that carry heavy fines and jail time. You can lose your license for up to 10 years and other penalties.

Administrative Penalties

Administrative driver's license suspensions are separate from one you may get when convicted of an OWI. Your administrative suspension is effective immediately after your arrest and is in place during your court proceedings.

When you fail chemical testing by having at or above the legal limit of alcohol or controlled substances in your system or by refusing to test, law enforcement notifies the BMV. Your license gets confiscated. The officer will have your vehicle towed at your expense.

The BMV suspends your license after your arrest. You have 10 days to request an administrative hearing to challenge the suspension of your license.

If you fail the chemical test, your license suspension is for 180 days. After 30 days, you may apply for limited driving privileges for work or school, medical appointments, and court hearings. You must install and maintain an ignition interlock device (IID) on your vehicle. An IID attaches to your vehicle's ignition and requires you to submit a breath sample before the car starts. If the device detects alcohol, it will not allow you to drive. The IID further requires more breath samples during your drive at random intervals.

Aggravating Factors

Certain aggravating factors will increase the seriousness of your OWI charge. These factors include:

  • Having a BAC that is 0.15% or greater
  • Transporting a passenger under 18
  • Causing death or serious bodily injury
  • Causing the death of a law enforcement animal
  • Having a prior conviction for OWI
  • Previous conviction for OWI with aggravating factors

Having a BAC of 0.15% or more for a first offense is a Class A misdemeanor. The other aggravating factors will elevate your charge to a felony. If you caused a severe injury or death, you may need to pay restitution. Your victim and their families can file a civil suit against you. The court can order you to repay the emergency medical services who responded to your OWI.

Zero-Tolerance Law

Indiana has enacted zero-tolerance laws for underage drinking and driving. The per se limit for underage drivers is a 0.02% BAC. It only takes a small amount of alcohol to reach this level. Essentially, you will face arrest if you have a measurable amount of alcohol in your body.

Operating a vehicle under 21 with a blood alcohol content of 0.02% but less than 0.08% is a Class C infraction. You will lose your driver's license for up to one year and receive $500 in fines. The judge can order you to complete a substance abuse dedication program or an assessment. If your BAC is 0.08% or greater, you will face the more severe penalties associated with an adult OWI charge if you are 18 to 20.

Indiana OWI Resources

  • Indiana OWI Statute: Operating While Intoxicated (Indiana Code 9-30-5-1)
  • Indiana Impaired Driving Laws: Overview of OWI and related offenses, including repercussions for arrests and convictions (Indiana Criminal Justice Institute)
  • License Suspension and Reinstatement: Information about license suspension in Indiana and how to get your license reinstated after the suspension has ended (Indiana Criminal Justice Institute)
  • Impaired Driving Programs: Brief overview of Indiana's impaired driving programs, which raise awareness and reduce OWIs (Indiana Criminal Justice Institute)
  • Certified IID Models: Listing of ignition interlock devices (IIDs) certified by Indiana for use by impaired driving offenders (Indiana State Dept. of Toxicology)
  • Sober Ride Indiana: Receive a $15 ride credit for Uber or Lyft in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne (Indiana Criminal Justice Institute)

Get Legal Help with Your OWI Case in Indiana

Consequences for an OWI conviction can affect you for many years. After you have served your sentence, a conviction can affect your ability to get a job, get professional licenses, and even get housing. Contact an OWI/DUI defense attorney who can review the evidence against you and give sound legal advice about your case.

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