Kentucky is famous for the most renowned bourbon distilleries in the world. But Kentucky takes drunken driving very seriously. It's one of the few states that imposes jail time for a first-offense DUI conviction. The law also comprehensively captures a wide range of dangerous driving conditions.
Learn about the situations that can find you charged with a DUI in Kentucky. Learning about the law will help you understand your options if you have a DUI charge. The following charts, information, and links to more sources will give you an overview.
Note: State 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.
Kentucky DUI Laws
Kentucky defines driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) broadly. DUI and DWI are interchangeable in Kentucky.
State law bans having physical control of a motor vehicle while:
- Under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or greater
- Having any controlled substance in your system
- Impaired by any substance that diminishes driving ability
- Impaired by any combination of intoxicants
Having physical control of a vehicle doesn't mean you have to be in motion. You only need to be capable of easily turning on a motor vehicle and driving if you choose. You might simply be sitting in the driver's seat with the keys.
Per Se BAC Limit
Kentucky has a blood alcohol content (BAC) legal limit of 0.08%. This level is 0.04% for commercial drivers while operating commercial vehicles. Anyone under 21 faces a DUI charge if their BAC is 0.02% or more.
These limits are per se blood alcohol levels. Under a per se law, police can arrest you if your chemical tests show your BAC is at or above this number. They don't need to provide more evidence of your impairment.
But, under Kentucky's DWI laws, you do not need to be at the 0.08% BAC to face arrest. With evidence that you are too intoxicated to drive safely, a police officer may arrest you if your BAC is 0.04% to 0.07%.
You can also be charged for DUI if you're under the influence of any drugs or intoxicants that alter your mental status and make driving dangerous. Other intoxicants include over-the-counter medications or inhalants like glue or aerosol sprays.
Implied Consent Law
When law enforcement stops you, they may ask you to submit to field sobriety tests and chemical tests to determine the level of your intoxication. Chemical tests may consist of a Breathalyzer or breath test, which can show the amount of alcohol in your system. Law enforcement can also ask you to take urine, saliva, or blood tests, which can detect other intoxicating substances and will confirm your BAC.
You can refuse a preliminary breath test and field sobriety tests at the scene, but once you reach the police department, implied consent laws kick in.
When granted your driver's license, you agree to obey the law. Part of the law is that police officers expect you to cooperate with these tests. They will read you an implied consent warning that explains the law. You have a 15-minute period to contact an attorney before taking the tests. The chemical test results are evidence of your intoxication for court.
You may refuse chemical tests. But, as the officer will explain, you will lose your driving privileges. Your license suspension period will be six months for a first test refusal. You will not be eligible for a hardship license.
A refusal will also double your mandatory minimum jail time if you get convicted later of a second DUI within a 10-year period. Plus, prosecutors may be able to use your refusal against you in court (see information below on refusing blood tests).
Blood Test Refusal Policy — 2021 Rule
There is a new exception to the implied consent law. In 2021, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that you can refuse a blood test without criminal penalties. This means you can decline to have a blood test, and this refusal cannot penalize you. Prosecutors can't mention this refusal in court. This refusal is not an aggravating factor. You won't face more jail time, but you may still lose your driver's license.
If you refuse a blood test, a police officer can request a warrant to draw and test your blood. They need to have reasonable suspicion of your intoxication. You can't refuse a blood test once they have a warrant, but you can choose who may draw your blood.
If certain aggravating circumstances are present at the time of your arrest, your DUI becomes more serious. If one of the following aggravating circumstances is present, your penalties get increased:
- Speeding 30 miles or more over the posted speed limit
- Driving the wrong way on a limited-access highway
- Causing an accident that results in serious bodily injury or death
- Having a BAC of 0.15% or more
- Refusing chemical tests, except blood tests
- Transporting a minor age 12 or younger while intoxicated
Usually, your mandatory minimum jail time doubles when an aggravating circumstance is present. This jail time is not eligible for suspension or reduction, nor can you get an early release. You must serve your entire sentence.
Under 21 DUI Laws
It is illegal for anyone under 21 years of age to buy or consume alcohol. To reflect this, Kentucky has enacted zero-tolerance laws for underage drunk driving. A BAC of 0.02% will have you facing a DUI arrest. Police officers may arrest you if you have any controlled substances in your system, as well.
The driver's license revocation period is between 30 days and six months for a first-time DUI conviction. You will need to complete a substance abuse program. A judge can fine you up to $500, or they can assign 20 hours of community service.
If your BAC is 0.08% or higher, you face the same consequences as an adult.
A DUI conviction will remain on your record for 10 years. A first DUI charge is a misdemeanor offense.
A first-offense conviction with no aggravating factors carries:
- Minimum of 48 hours to 30 days in jail
- Fines between $200 and $500
- License revocation for six months
- 90-day substance abuse treatment
Note that you may apply for community labor hours instead of serving a jail sentence.
If convicted of a second offense within 10 years, you face:
- A minimum mandatory sentence of seven days to six months in jail
- $350 to $500 in fines
- Possible community labor sentence of 10 days to six months
- One year of substance abuse treatment
- 18-month driver's license revocation
- Being labeled a repeat offender
For a third offense within 10 years, your sentence includes:
- Fines of $500 to $1,000
- Jail time of at least 30 days, with up to one year possible
- Community labor of 30 days to one year
- 36-month driver's license suspension
- One year of substance abuse treatment
Suspension or reduction of your jail time or community labor sentence is not available for a second or third DUI offense. You would also not be eligible for early release from jail.
Additional DUI offenses within 10 years are Class D felonies.
Ignition Interlock Program
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet monitors driver's license suspensions. You can reduce your suspension period by applying for the Kentucky Ignition Interlock Program (KIIP). An ignition interlock device is a breath test appliance installed in your vehicle's ignition system. You must submit a breath sample before your car will start. If the device detects a BAC of 0.02% or more, it won't allow your vehicle to drive.
You may apply for the KIIP after your conviction. You need to serve some of your license suspension before you can qualify. If this is your first DUI conviction in 10 years, you will need to serve 90 days but then only have four months remaining with the ignition interlock device in place. You still have to complete a substance abuse treatment program.
You can apply for a hardship license if you have a documented need to drive. You file an affidavit with the court setting out your needs, such as for school, work, or medical necessity. If granted, your driving privileges limit which days, times, and locations you may drive. You may need to install an ignition interlock device before getting a hardship license.
Kentucky DUI Resources
Learn More About Kentucky DUI Laws From an Attorney
Kentucky drunken driving laws are severe. Even one DUI charge can cost you a lot of time and money. A conviction will stay with you for years and can affect other aspects of your life. If you are facing a DUI charge in Kentucky, a DUI defense attorney can help you craft your best defense and advocate on your behalf.