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Ohio OVI Laws

Ohio state laws regarding drinking and driving privileges are strict: do not drink and drive. Ohio law has abandoned terms like DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated) and replaced them with OVI, “Operating a Vehicle while Impaired." Ohio's OVI laws are severe; even first-time offenders face steep penalties.

OVI Basics

Every state has passed laws against driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. As tests have become more sophisticated, the standards for “who is too drunk to drive" have become tighter.

Drunk driving is not subjective. It can be scientifically measured. The federal standard for driving while intoxicated is .08% blood alcohol content (BAC), and most states have adopted this basic level.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have implied consent laws. These laws mean that when drivers receive their driver's licenses, they consent to receive future field sobriety tests or blood or urine tests for the presence of alcohol or other illegal substances. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that implied consent laws do not violate drivers' rights.

To determine if you are under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, police must have probable cause to stop your vehicle. Any valid traffic stop is sufficient cause for further investigation. Erratic driving, expired license plates, and traffic violations are how law enforcement officers catch most drunk drivers.

Now that you understand drinking and driving laws, let's review Ohio's specific OVI laws and penalties.

Ohio Drinking and Driving Laws

Ohio's statutes (laws) give police and drivers several choices for confirming an OVI. The first step is the field sobriety test. Everyone has seen some version of this test on TV. A trained officer must administer the “horizontal nystagmus test," which measures an intoxicated driver's ability to focus their eyes.

The officer must confirm your BAC with a breath or blood test. In-station breathalyzers confirm whatever BAC the officer found during the roadside test. A nurse or paramedic handles the blood draw if you opt for a blood test.

The BAC level for OVI is .08% for adults. For commercial drivers, such as big-rig drivers, it is .04%. For underage drivers (below the age of 21), it is .02%.

Prescription Drugs vs. Illegal Narcotics

Some prescription drugs resemble illegal narcotics in standard drug screens. Ohio has devised a legal limit for narcotics and narcotic metabolites (breakdown products). If drivers claim their prescription medications caused their impairment, there is a legal level to measure. These can include:

  • Heroin metabolite, which can be mistaken for lawful opioids such as hydrocodone or Percocet.
  • Amphetamine and methamphetamine, which can mimic ADD and ADHD medications such as Adderal.
  • Marijuana metabolite. Medical marijuana vaping is legal in Ohio, although smoking and recreational use are not.

L.S.D., phencyclidine (PCP), and salvia divinorum also have low but lawful levels for OVI purposes.

Penalties for OVI in Ohio

If your test results are above the maximum level for alcohol or any illegal drug, you should contact an OVI attorney immediately. Penalties are immediate and severe for any OVI.

Administrative License Suspension (ALS)

You will receive an administrative license suspension if you refuse a chemical test. This suspension comes before any trial or conviction for the OVI. You have 30 days to appeal, and the suspension will stand unless law enforcement did not ask you to take the test or did not advise you of the consequences of refusing the test.

An ALS is enforced through the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) and has nothing to do with any criminal OVI charge.

First Offense

An OVI is a first-degree misdemeanor. For a first OVI offense, Ohio has a mandatory minimum three-day jail sentence, with up to 180 days of jail time. Your defense lawyer can argue for a driver's intervention program instead of a jail sentence.

There is a mandatory license suspension of one year and a possible three-year suspension. The minimum fine is $375 and up to $1,075. You will also receive six points on your license.

Second Offense

A second offense is any subsequent OVI charge within 10 years of the prior OVI conviction or guilty plea. A second offense is still a misdemeanor, but you can receive:

  • 10 days in jail or five days in jail and 18 days house arrest with electronic monitoring (HAEM) and/or continuous alcohol monitoring (CAM) for up to six months
  • Fines of up to $1,625
  • Alcohol/drug assessment and treatment
  • One to seven years driver's license suspension
  • Revocation of driving privileges for a minimum of 45 days
  • Ignition interlock device
  • Vehicle immobilization for a minimum of 90 days
  • Optional “party plates" (OVI offender license plates).

Third Offense

A third offense within ten years of the previous OVI cases is an unclassified misdemeanor, with a possible jail term of up to one year. In addition to the penalties faced by a second-time offender, a third-time offender could:

  • Have their license suspended for 12 years
  • Have their vehicle forfeited
  • Spend up to 110 days in home confinement

Facing any OVI charge is serious. If you need your car and driver's license for work, you need an OVI defense lawyer immediately. Even if you are guilty, you may not want to plead guilty. A “per se" plea means the judge can sentence you without a trial or other considerations.

The courts may waive immobilization, ignition interlock devices, and vehicle forfeiture if you can show you or your family will suffer undue hardship because of these sanctions. Other alternatives are available.

Ohio OVI Laws at a Glance

Here is a brief overview of Ohio's OVI law. For more information, see After a DUIDUI Expungement, and DUI and Insurance.

Code Sections Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.19
BAC Limit
  • Over 21: 0.08%
  • Under 21: 0.02%
  • Commercial drivers: 0.04%
What Is Prohibited?

OVI: Operating a motor vehicle while visibly impaired by alcohol or drugs or having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more.

Typical OVI Penalties

  • Fines ranging from $375 to $20,000
  • Jail or prison time from 3 days to 15 years
  • Placement of an interlock device on the offender's vehicle
  • Drivers' intervention program
  • Yellow OVI plates
  • Alcohol monitoring system
  • Alcohol and drug treatment programs
  • Vehicle Immobilization or Forfeiture
  • Driver's license suspension or revocation
  • Court costs and fees

Note: 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) you are researching.

If you can party and not drink or use drugs, you should do that. Pick a designated driver, call Uber or Lyft, or take the bus. If you have a substance abuse problem, consider getting that under control. If you're facing the consequences of a long night of having too much fun, contact an Ohio criminal defense attorney for assistance.

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