DWI Laws in North Carolina 2023: How Much Alcohol Can You Drink and Drive?

Drink and drive laws in North Carolina

In North Carolina, a driver cannot have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% (80 ml of alcohol/100 ml of blood) or higher. Exceeding the 0.08% BAC will result in DWI (driving while impaired) charge.

Commercial vehicle drivers cannot obtain a blood alcohol level of 0.04% or more. Additionally, drivers under the age of 21 are prohibited from having a BAC of 0.01% or greater.

Typically, one to two standard alcoholic beverages are enough to meet or surpass the BAC limit of 0.08%. However, this amount should only be used as a general approximation because BAC varies depending on parameters, including weight and gender.

This article aims to spread awareness about drunk driving laws in North Carolina. This website does not intend to advocate drinking and driving in any state or region.

NHTSA 2020 statistics show that 30% of traffic fatalities in North Carolina involve drivers with BAC levels of 0.08% and higher.

The government of North Carolina has been striving to decrease drunk or drugged driving crashes, fatalities, and injuries. 

Drinking and driving should be avoided as much as possible. If not, take a cab, Uber, or hire a designated driver service instead.

If you plan on driving after drinking, you should have your blood alcohol level checked before getting behind the wheel. You can use a alcohol breathalyzer to guarantee your BAC is within the legal limits in North Carolina.

We recommend visiting North Carolina’s official website for the most up-to-date information on DWI driving laws and regulations.

Legal Alcohol Limit When Driving in North Carolina

Alcohol can slow your reaction time, hinder your vision, affect your judgment of speed and distance, and often make you less inhibited and reckless.

These things can happen even if you don’t seem to or feel intoxicated. Alcohol consumption symptoms can appear long before you become intoxicated or legally impaired, and they can begin with the first drink.

Alcohol enters your bloodstream within 30 to 2 hours. Your breathing may become slower, and you may find it difficult to think clearly.

Even though the legal BAC limit in the state is 0.08%, keep in mind that everyone’s body responds differently to alcohol.

Some of the following criteria may influence your BAC level:

  • weight,
  • gender,
  • anxiety and exhaustion levels
  • alcohol consumption level,
  • an empty stomach, as well as
  • use of prescription drugs.

After drinking a few bottles or glasses of alcoholic beverages, some people may pass out. While some may appear normal at first glance, they may already be unable to drive. As a result, determining your BAC before driving is critical.

A BAC calculator and chart can help you determine how much alcohol you can consume before driving. These tools, however, may not be helpful for everyone because, as mentioned, everyone reacts differently to alcohol.

The most accurate method for determining your BAC is to use a certified alcohol breathalyzer.

Punishments for Drinking and Driving in North Carolina

A person’s blood alcohol level determines the severity of alcohol impairment. A BAC level of 0.010% to 0.029% may not show visible signs of impairment. Usually, people with this level of BAC may seem normal. However, as BAC levels rise, the indicators of alcohol-related impairment become apparent.

DWI rules differ from one state to the next. To avoid consequences, check your blood alcohol level before driving.

A DWI conviction can have both legal and financial implications. For your convenience, the DWI penalties in North Carolina are outlined below.

Levels of DWI in NC

The NC government has five misdemeanor DWI levels, with level I being the most severe and Level V being the least. The following punishment applies to DWI offenders in North Carolina.

Offense Jail Time Fines
Level V Minimum of 24 hours and a maximum of 60 days imprisonment $200
Level IV At least 48 hours up to 120 days of imprisonment $500
Level III Minimum of 72 hours and a maximum of six months of jail time $1,000
Level II At least seven (7) days and a maximum of one year in prison $2,000
Level I Minimum of 30 days and a maximum of two years imprisonment $4,000

License Suspension and Ignition Interlock

Anyone convicted of a DWI will have their driver’s license revoked by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Following revocation, the driver must install an ignition interlock device (IID). The periods for revocations and IIDs are listed below and are determined by the number of prior offenses in the previous seven years.

Offense First Offense Second Offense Third Offense
Revocation One (1) year Four (4) years Permanent
Ignition Interlock Device One (1) year Three (3) years Seven (7) years

Substance Abuse Assessment

A mandatory substance abuse assessment is required for all DWI convictions, followed by the recommended treatment or rehabilitative course. For misdemeanor levels three to five, the judge may allow time spent in inpatient treatment to be counted toward the required jail time.

When Can You Drink and Drive in North Carolina?

Gender and other factors can influence a person’s blood alcohol level. Research says that men and women have different BAC levels.

Alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) levels in men are significantly higher than in women. The ADH enzymes control alcohol metabolism. As a result, men digest alcohol more quickly than women.

If you’re wondering how much alcohol you can drink before driving in North Carolina, the information below may be useful.

Although studies back up the information below, you should be aware that it may not be effective or applicable to everyone.

How Many Bottles of Beers Can You Drink and Drive in North Carolina?

Drink beer and drive in North Carolina

According to BAC charts, a lighter person can have a greater BAC.

A male weighing 180 pounds (82 kilograms) can have a BAC of 0.02% after consuming a 12-ounce (350 ml) beer.

A woman of the same weight who drinks the same amount of beer may have a BAC of 0.03%.

Limiting your beer consumption to one to two bottles is best if you need to drive later.

How Many Glasses of Wine Can You Consume and Drive in North Carolina?

A standard 5 oz (142 ml) glass of wine has an ABV of 12%.

A 180-pound man can have a BAC of 0.02% after drinking one glass of wine, as shown in the preceding example. A woman with the same weight and alcohol consumption, on the other hand, could have a BAC of up to 0.03%.

If you intend to drive after drinking, one to two glasses of wine should suffice.

How Much Whiskey or Vodka Can You Drink and Drive in North Carolina?

Distilled alcoholic beverages, such as vodka and whiskey, contain 40% alcohol.

If you cannot avoid drinking and driving, limit yourself to one to two shots of whiskey or vodka.

Sticking to DWI Laws in North Carolina

There are several misconceptions about how alcohol affects driving. Everyone on the road should be mindful of the risks of DWI and take all necessary precautions to avoid it.

Driving while drunk or high is dangerous. If you are intoxicated, you may lose control of yourself and your vehicle.

If you’ve only had a few alcoholic beverages, don’t be complacent and assume your blood alcohol level and driving skills are reliable. If you are drunk, you should not drive. Instead, take public transportation.

If you plan on driving after drinking, monitor your blood alcohol levels and make sure it is less than the legal limit in North Carolina. A reliable alcohol breathalyzer can precisely measure your blood alcohol content.

It is advisable to frequently check North Carolina’s website to stay updated on DWI laws.

About the author

Ashley Cresswell

Ashley Cresswell is a former phlebotomist with a passion for road safety. During her time as a phlebotomist, Ashley administered over 1000 blood alcohol tests to impaired drivers and was shocked to discover that many of them were simply uninformed about the legal limits for driving under the influence. As a result, Ashley conducted extensive research on scientific studies and local laws to bring drivers a comprehensive resource on drink and drive limits from around the world.