North Carolina DWI Laws and Penalties

The definition and consequences of driving while impaired in North Carolina.

In North Carolina, a driver can be convicted of driving while impaired (DWI) (also called DUI) if operating a motor vehicle on any highway or public place:

  • while under the influence (appreciable impairment of faculties) of any impairing substance
  • with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more (.04% or more for commercial drivers), or
  • with any metabolized schedule one controlled substance (like opiates and benzos) in his or her body.

In other words, you can get a DWI based on actual impairment or the amount of alcohol or drugs in your system.

Jail Time and Fines for North Carolina DWI Convictions

North Carolina uses a multi-tiered system for DWI sentencing. A DWI can be a Level One, Two, Three, Four, or Five (Level One being the most and Level Five being the least serious) depending on the circumstances of the case.

Level Three, Four, and Five DWIs

Most DWI offenses are Level Three, Four, or Five based upon aggravating factors like high BAC versus mitigating factors like voluntarily substance abuse treatment.

Level 3 (Mitigated)

Level 4 (Normal)

Level 5 (Aggravated)

Jail Time

72 hours to 6 months

48 hours to 120 days

24 hours to 60 days


$1,000 maximum

$500 maximum

$200 maximum

All offenders must also undergo a substance abuse assessment and possibly treatment. Time spent in inpatient treatment or in community service can count towards mandatory jail time.

Level One and Two DWIs

Some DWIs involve "gross aggravating" factors like driving while revoked for DWI, causing serious injury to another person, having a minor passenger, and having a prior DWI conviction within the last seven years. A single gross aggravating factor will result in a Level Two punishment, while two gross aggravating factors (or driving with a minor) will result in Level One penalties. And motorists convicted of a DWI involving three or more gross aggravating factors face aggravated Level One penalties.

Level 1 Aggravated

Level 1

Level 2

Jail Time

12 to 36 months (minimum 120 days if probation is granted)

30 days to 24 months (minimum 10 days if probation is granted)

7 days to 12 months (minimum 90 days of sobriety monitoring if probation granted)


$10,000 maximum

$4,000 maximum

$2,000 maximum

License Suspensions for a North Carolina DWI

The court reports all DWI convictions to the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which will revoke the driver's license. Prior to license reinstatement, the driver must show proof of completion of required substance abuse treatment and install an ignition interlock device (IID).

The periods of time for revocations and IIDs are listed below and depend on the number of prior offenses.

1st Offense

2nd Offense in 3 Years

3rd Offense in 7 Years

Revocation Period

1 year

4 years


Ignition Interlock Device (IID)

1 year (until 21 years old if underage)

3 years

7 years

Early reinstatement. Drivers who participate in alcohol monitoring may be eligible for early license reinstatement. A four-year revocation can be reduced to two years and a permanent revocation can be restored after three years. A permanent revocation can also be restored after only 24 months if the driver has successfully completed 12 months of monitored sobriety.

Restricted licenses. First offenders may be able to regain limited driving privileges during the revocation period. However, to be eligible, the driver might be required to complete treatment and use an IID. Drivers with DWIs involving a BAC of .15% or more must complete at least 45 days of the revocation with no driving whatsoever before they can get limited driving privileges.

North Carolina' Implied Consent Laws

After a DWI arrest, the officer will normally request that the driver take a breath, blood, or urine test. Under North Carolina's "implied consent" laws, drivers who unlawfully refuse the test face a 12-month revocation. However, depending on the circumstances, the driver may be able to obtain limited driving privileges after completing part of the revocation period with no driving.

Underage DWI

Drivers who are under the age of 21 can be convicted of a class 2 misdemeanor for driving with any amount of alcohol or drugs in their system. A conviction carries up to $1,000 in fines and a maximum of 60 days in jail. The underage driver will also be looking at license revocation until the age of 21, though limited driving privileges may be available.

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