Washington DUI Laws

In Washington, a driver may be charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI) if he or she:

  • Has a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .08 or higher;
  • Has a blood THC (marijuana) level of 5.0 per millimeter or higher;
  • Was under the influence or affected by an intoxicating liquor or drug;
  • Was under the influence of a combination of drugs and alcohol.

The BAC limit is lower for commercial drivers (.04 or higher) and minors under age 21 (.02 or higher).

It's important to know that "drugs" doesn't refer only to illegal narcotics. Medications that were prescribed or sold over-the-counter (depression medications, pain killers or sleep agents) can also create an intoxicating effect. Legally possessing the medication is not a defense.

What if the officer doesn't actually see me driving, but just sitting in my car with keys in the ignition?

No dice. The state of Washington isn't going to let you off that easy. Let's say you safely made it to your friend's house, but then passed out in the front seat of your car, engine running and keys still in the ignition. If a police officer finds you, you can be in violation of the law. You are probably thinking, "But, the officer didn't see me driving. It doesn't count!" Oh, but it does.

Under RCW 46.61.504, if you are in "physical control" of the car and intoxicated, you can be charged. Actual physical control refers to situations where the car is not in motion, but capable of movement - such as when the keys are in the ignition and the car is parked. In essence, the same rules apply - if you have a BAC of .08 or higher, a THC level of 5.00 or higher, or are under the influence of a alcohol and/or drugs, you are in violation of the law.

What about my Driver's License?

Most people don't realize that when they are arrested for a DUI in Washington they'll have to deal with two historically unpopular government agencies: the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) and the criminal court system.

Why? Because the DOL will handle your license suspension pursuant to Washington's implied consent laws and the courts will deal with your criminal case.

DUI Arrest Driver's License Suspension

There are 2 separate license suspensions or revocations for a DUI. There's the one when you are arrested and a different one if you are convicted. Let's explore this more.

If you are arrested, the DOL will automatically suspend your license anywhere from 90 days to 2 years. This will happen 60 days from the date you were arrested---unless you request a hearing. Act quickly. You'll need to request that hearing within 20 days of your arrest. Your license will still be valid while you wait for your hearing.

Winning the Hearing

If the court still convicts you of DUI, your driver license will be suspended as a result of the court conviction. A hearing decision in your favor applies only to the suspension resulting from the arrest.

Driver's License Suspensions If Convicted

If you are convicted of a DUI in Washington, your driver license will be suspended for 90 days to 4 years, depending on prior offenses and the severity of the incident. The suspension will begin 45 days after your conviction.

Criminal Penalties

Penalties range from jail time, to probation and a fine depending on the severity of DUI and your prior criminal history. If you have been charged with a DUI, it will likely be classified as a "gross misdemeanor" which means the maximum punishment is 364 days in jail and a $5000.00 fine. But, if you caused serious bodily injury or death to another person or if you've previously been convicted of vehicular assault or homicide, or if you have four priors within the past 10 years, it will be charged as a Class C Felony DUI---that means possible prison time.

Remember, the higher your BAC, the more severe your penalties may be. Multiple convictions will also result in harsher sentences.

Here is a brief overview of Washington's DUI laws. For more information see After a DUI, DUI Expungement, and DUI and Insurance .

Code Sections RCW 46.61.502
BAC Limit

.08 or higher for adults (21 and over)
.04 or higher for commercial vehicle drivers
.02 or higher for minors (under 21)

What is Prohibited?

DUI: Operating a motor vehicle while visibly impaired by alcohol or drugs or have a BAC of 0.08 percent or more.

Typical DUI Penalties

 

  • Fines, fees and surcharges
  • License suspension
  • Ignition interlock device
  • Jail time
  • Community service

Ignition Interlock Device (IIL)

An Ignition Interlock Driver License (IIL) allows you to drive a vehicle while your license is suspended or revoked for a drug or alcohol-related offense.

Eligibility

To be eligible, your driving record must show all of the following and that you have an unexpired WA driver license:

  • An arrest or conviction of any of the following:
    DUI or Physical Control involving drugs or alcohol
    Reckless Driving
    Vehicular Assault involving drugs or alcohol
    Vehicular Homicide involving drugs or alcohol
  • You have a WA State residence address and unexpired WA driver license.
  • Your current suspension or revocation doesn't include:
    Minor in Possession, or
    Habitual Traffic Offender (Suspended 1st degree)
Enhanced Penalties
  • A child was in the car at the time
  • The driver had a commercial license and at the time was driving a commercial vehicle
  • The defendant refused to submit to a blood or breath test
  • There was property damage or injury
  • The defendant was under 21 (“zero tolerance” laws commonly require a much lower blood-alcohol level, and impose longer license suspensions).

It's best to never drink or use drugs and drive. Select a designated driver ahead of time, who will stay sober. If you are impaired there are still other options to driving: use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member, or use public transportation. If you do find yourself facing a DUI, you may wish to contact a criminal defense attorney for assistance.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.