Every year, law enforcement officers in New York arrest tens of thousands of people on suspicion of drunk driving. In 2018, that figure topped 35,000 arrests. But not all drunk driving charges are created equal.

Under state law, a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) reading will affect the severity of the charges.

3 levels of drunk driving offenses

Just about everybody knows the “legal limit” as 0.08. While that measurement is important, it is not the only one worth knowing. In fact, you can face a form of drunk driving charges with a BAC below that level. Higher readings can result in a more serious offense.

Essentially, there are three levels of drunk driving offenses in the state:

Driving while ability impaired by alcohol (DWAI)

Authorities use this charge when a driver has a BAC above 0.05, but no more than 0.07. A first-time offense is only considered a traffic infraction. You’ll face a fine of $300-$500, a jail sentence of up to 15 days, and if you’re at least 21 years old, a 90-day license suspension.

A second offense within five years is also considered a traffic infraction. A third offense within 10 years becomes a misdemeanor.

Driving while intoxicated (DWI)

A DWI is used when a driver’s BAC is 0.08 or higher. A first-time offense is immediately a misdemeanor, meaning a fine of $500-$1,000, up to one year in jail and a license revocation of at least six months.

Any subsequent DWI within 10 years becomes a felony. Those will bring a significantly higher fine, a potentially longer jail sentence and a lengthier license revocation.

Aggravated driving while intoxicated (AGG-DWI)

An aggravated DWI charge carries with it the toughest initial penalties. It is used when a driver’s BAC reading is 0.18 or above, well over twice the legal limit for DWI. While the first offense is a misdemeanor, it can lead to a fine of $1,000-$2,500, a jail sentence up to a year and at least a yearlong license revocation.

Any subsequent offense within 10 years results in a license revocation of 18 months at minimum, plus the potential for a higher fine and longer jail sentence. These violations are considered felonies.

The consequences of a DWI

A drunk driving charge, no matter how serious, can disrupt every aspect of your life. Not only do you have to worry about the penalties outlined above, a conviction can impact job prospects, career earnings and even the academic standing of a college student.

With an effective criminal defense attorney, it’s possible to quickly put this difficult period behind you and move forward in life.