Chapter 9: Alcohol and Other Drugs

 chapter 9


Note:  Practice quizzes are available only for those sections of the manual covering rules of the road (Chapters 4 through 11 and Road Signs).

Note: Beginning July 1, 2003, no person may legally operate a vehicle in New York State with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or more. This Driver's Manual version contains that information.

You have probably heard the facts before - driving while impaired or intoxicated is a serious traffic safety problem in the United States. In New York State, more than 20 percent of all highway deaths involve the use of alcohol or other drugs. But, the facts and statistics do not tell the whole story. Behind the numbers are thousands of lives cut short, permanent or disabling injuries, and families devastated because someone drove while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

After you drink alcohol or take other drugs, safe driving is simply not possible. Not every impaired or intoxicated driver causes a traffic crash, but each one is dangerous, risking his or her life and the lives of those sharing the road.

Young people, who have less experience with both alcohol and driving, are at greatest risk. Drivers under 21 years old represent about 5 percent of the driving population, but 15 percent of the drivers involved in alcohol or drug-related fatalities. This is one reason the license revocation penalties are more severe for young drivers under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

Because driving "under the influence" is so dangerous, the penalties for alcohol or drug-related violations are very tough and enforcement by police is a priority. Your chances of being caught and convicted are very high, and New York State law does not allow you to plea bargain to an offense not related to alcohol or drugs.


Alcohol slows your reflexes and reaction time, reduces your ability to see clearly, distorts your judgment of speed and distances, often reduces your inhibitions from taking chances, and makes you less alert. The important physical and mental skills you need to drive safely are weakened.

Because your vision is already restricted at night, driving after drinking is especially dangerous after dark. In addition to its other effects, alcohol reduces your ability to recover from headlight glare. When another vehicle approaches, you can be blinded by its headlights for a dangerously long period of time.

You do not have to look or feel drunk for these things to happen. The effects of alcohol can begin long before you become intoxicated or even legally impaired and begin with the first drink.

As alcohol limits your physical ability to drive, it also makes you less aware of what is happening to your safe driving abilities. It becomes difficult for you to judge your own condition. You may actually feel more confident about driving, when you should not be driving at all.

During each mile you drive, you literally make hundreds of decisions. You turn those decisions into actions that keep your vehicle under control and keep you from getting into traffic crashes. Alcohol makes it hard to make correct decisions and to take the safest actions.

For example: You have just stopped at a STOP sign. You see another vehicle approaching the intersection. You must quickly make a decision whether it is safe to go through the intersection. Under the influence of alcohol, you are more likely to make a wrong decision and "take a chance." Your slower reaction time, coupled with the poor decision, could mean real trouble. It could lead to a crash that should never have happened.



Drugs other than alcohol, including many prescription and over-the-counter medications, can affect your driving ability. They can have effects similar to alcohol or even worse. If you are taking medication, even a non-prescription allergy or cold remedy, check the label for warnings about its effects. If you're not sure, ask your doctor or pharmacist about driving after taking the medication.

Never drink alcohol while you are taking other drugs. It could be dangerous, often multiplying the effects of the alcohol and the other drug. For example, taking one drink when you are also using an allergy or cold remedy could affect you as much as several drinks.

It can be a criminal offense to drive while impaired by the combined effect of drugs or alcohol and drugs, illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, LSD, heroin and opium, and by some prescription drugs such as tranquilizers. Drugs can affect your reflexes, judgment, vision and alertness in ways similar to alcohol, and they may have other dangerous effects.

Combining alcohol with other drugs severely reduces your driving abilities and can cause serious health problems, including death.



In New York State, you may be arrested for any of these offenses: aggravated driving while intoxicated (Agg-DWI), driving while intoxicated (DWI), driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or more (.08 BAC), driving while ability impaired by a drug (DWAI-drug), driving while ability impaired by alcohol (DWAI), or driving under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs.

Blood alcohol content (BAC) is the percentage of alcohol in your blood and is usually determined by a chemical test of breath, blood, urine or saliva. A BAC of more than .05 percent is legal evidence that you are impaired, a BAC of .08 percent or higher is evidence of intoxication, and a BAC of .18 percent or more is evidence of aggravated driving while intoxicated.

Many people think chemical test evidence is required to prove you were intoxicated or impaired. However, a police officer's testimony about your driving, appearance, and behavior when arrested can provide enough evidence alone to convict you, even without a chemical test.

If you are found guilty of any alcohol or drug-related driving violation, the court must revoke or suspend your license at the time you are sentenced. Even if the court allows you a 20-day continuation of driving privilege, your license itself will be taken immediately.

The BAC standards and penalties for commercial drivers are even more strict than those indicated in this chapter. For complete information, see Section 1 of the Commercial Driver's Manual (CDL-10).



Your blood alcohol content (BAC) primarily depends on:

  • How much alcohol you drink.

  • How much time passes between drinks.

  • Your weight.

Your BAC does not depend on what kind of alcoholic beverage you drink, how physically fit you are, or how well you can "hold your liquor."

Different types of drinks do not affect you differently. It is the amount of alcohol you consume, not whether it is in beer, wine or wine cooler, or liquor, that raises your BAC and lowers your driving ability. These drinks contain about the same amount of alcohol - 1½ ounces of liquor, 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, and 12 ounces of wine cooler. None is "safer to drink" than the others.

For a male weighing 150 pounds, each one of these drinks would contain enough alcohol to increase his BAC by about .02 percent. On average, it takes the human body about one hour to dispose of that much alcohol. However, studies suggest that a woman's body may process and remove alcohol from the blood more slowly than a man's does. This may result in a higher BAC over a longer period of time.


Compared to the 150-pound male described above, your own body weight can make some difference in the BAC and the effects of alcohol. But no one is immune to the effects of alcohol. It is a simple fact: the more you drink in a given period of time, the higher your BAC will be, and the less safe your driving will be.

It takes only a few drinks to raise your BAC to levels at which it is illegal to drive. And remember, the effects of alcohol on your driving ability actually begin at even lower BAC levels after just one drink.

Eating before or while you drink helps slow down alcohol absorption somewhat, but it cannot prevent you from becoming impaired or intoxicated if you have too many drinks.

The only way to effectively reduce your BAC is to spend time without drinking. Coffee, exercise and cold showers cannot reduce your BAC and the effects of alcohol. They might help you stay awake, but it cannot affect your BAC or make you sober.




AGG-DWI (0.18 and higher Blood Alcohol Content [BAC])

1st Offense
Minimum $1,000
Maximum $2,500
Up to 1 yearMinimum 1-Year Revocation
2nd Offense 
(Class E Felony) 
Within 10 Years
Minimum $1,000 
Maximum $5,000
Up to 4 years; minimum 5 days jail or 30 days of community serviceMinimum 18-Month Revocation

DWI (.08 and higher Blood Alcohol Content [BAC]) and DWAI-Drug

1st Offense
Minimum $500 
Maximum $1,000
Up to 1 yearMinimum 6-Month Revocation
2nd Offense 
(Class E Felony) 
Within 10 Years
Minimum $1,000 
Maximum $5,000
Up to 4 years; minimum 5 days jail or 30 days of community serviceMinimum 1-Year Revocation


1st Offense 
Minimum $500 
Maximum $1,000
Up to 1 yearMinimum 6-Month Revocation
2nd Offense 
(Class E Felony) 
Within 10 Years
Minimum $1,000 
Maximum $5,000
Up to 4 yearsMinimum 1-Year Revocation

DWAI (more than .05 up to .07 Blood Alcohol Content [BAC])

1st Offense 
(Traffic Infraction)
Minimum $300 
Maximum $500
Up to 15 days90-day Suspension
2nd Offense 
Within 5 years 
(Traffic Infraction)
Minimum $500 
Maximum $750
Up to 30 daysMinimum 6-Month Revocation

NOTE: Higher fines, longer jail sentences, and increased license penalties (including lifetime revocation) may result from a third or subsequent conviction within 10 years.

Conviction fine only, does not include mandatory surcharge or crime victims assistance fee.

** The Department of Motor Vehicles determines when your license can be returned. Its return or reinstatement based on state law or regulation, is not automatic. You must reapply for your license and may have to pass a test.



Chemical tests, such as the "breathalyzer," measure a person's BAC. If you are arrested for an alcohol or drug-related violation, the police officer will almost surely request that you submit to a chemical test. Under New York's "Implied Consent" law, by driving a car in this state you are considered to have already given your consent to take such a test.

Chemical test refusal is a separate issue from whether or not you were guilty of an alcohol or drug-related violation. If you refuse to take the test after being arrested, your license will be suspended when you are arraigned in court on the alcohol or other drug-related charge. Also, the fact that you refused a chemical test may be introduced in court when you are tried on the alcohol or drug-related charge. If a DMV hearing later confirms you did refuse the test, your license will be revoked even if you are found not guilty of the alcohol or other drug-related violation. For information on license revocations and civil penalties for chemical test refusals, see Alcohol and Drug Driving Violations.



The table "Penalties for Alcohol/Drug Related Violations" summarizes the fines, surcharges, license penalties and possible imprisonment you would face if convicted of an alcohol or drug-related violation. In addition to these penalties, impaired or intoxicated driving can carry other serious consequences.

Zero Tolerance for Drivers Under 21

The legal purchase and possession age for alcoholic beverages in New York State is 21. Under the state's "zero tolerance" law, it is a violation for a person under age 21 to drive with any measurable BAC (.02 to .07). After a finding of violation is determined at a DMV hearing, the driver's license will be suspended for six months. The driver will then have to pay a $100 suspension termination fee and a $125 civil penalty to be re-licensed. For a second Zero Tolerance violation, the driver's license will be revoked for at least one year or until the driver reaches age 21, whichever is longer.

Illegal Purchase Of Alcoholic Beverages

If you illegally purchase alcoholic beverages by using a driver license or Non-Driver ID card as proof of age, state law requires the suspension of your driver license or privilege to apply for a license.

Open Container Law

It is a traffic infraction for a driver or passenger in a motor vehicle on a public highway, street or road, to drink an alcoholic beverage, or to possess an alcoholic beverage with the intent of drinking it. The penalty for a first conviction is a fine up to $150, a mandatory surcharge, a crime victim assistance fee, potential imprisonment up to 15 days, and a possible two points assessed against the driver's license record. Additional offenses within 18-months bring higher penalties. The law exempts passengers in vehicles such as stretch limousines, and other vehicles, that display a commerce certificate or permit issued by the U.S. Department Of Transportation or the NYS Department Of Transportation.

The Ignition Interlock Program

A judge may order an ignition interlock device as a condition of probation in relation to certain alcohol-related offenses. For an Aggravated-DWI offense or any repeat alcohol or drug offense within five years, a judge is required to order the system to be installed on each vehicle owned and operated by the motorist during both the revocation period and any probation period that follows. The judge also must order an alcohol assessment for the repeat offender. If the assessment indicates the need for alcohol treatment, the judge may be required to order completion of the treatment as a condition of probation.

This device, purchased and installed at the expense of the motorist, is connected to a motor vehicle ignition system and measures the alcohol content of the operator's breath. As a result, the vehicle cannot be started until the driver provides an acceptable sample breath. While using the interlock device, the motorist may be eligible to hold a conditional license. This license will be revoked it the motorist fails to comply with the court's terms, or for conviction of any traffic offense other than parking, stopping or standing.

Leandra's Law

This law sets some of the toughest DWI provisions in the country. Under Leandra's Law, first-time offenders driving while intoxicated or impaired by drugs with a child less than 16 years old in the vehicle may be charged with a class E felony, punishable by up to four years in State prison. Courts must order all drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated or aggravated driving while intoxicated to install and maintain an ignition interlock on any vehicle owned and operated by such driver for at least 12 months. Drivers who drive while intoxicated or impaired by drugs and cause the death of a child less than 16 years of age in the vehicle may be charged with a Class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years in State prison. Drivers who drive while intoxicated or impaired by drugs and cause serious physical injury to a child less than 16 years of age in the vehicle may be charged with the Class C felony, punishable by up to 15 years in State prison.



  • If you kill or seriously injure another person because of an alcohol or other drug-related violation, you can be convicted of criminally negligent homicide, vehicular manslaughter, or assault, carrying a fine of thousands of dollars and a jail term of up to 15 years.

  • If you are convicted of two DWI and/or DWAI-drug violations, both resulting in physical injury traffic crashes, your license will be revoked permanently.

  • If you drive while your license is suspended or revoked, you face a mandatory fine of $200 to $1000, and a mandatory jail term or probation. If impaired or intoxicated at the time of arrest, the maximum mandatory fine is $5,000, and the vehicle may be seized and forfeited.

  • Liability insurance may not cover the cost of injuries and damage from a traffic crash. You could be sued for thousands of dollars. You'd also find it difficult and expensive to buy liability insurance for several years.

  • In addition to fines and surcharges, you could also face very expensive legal fees.

  • You could have a criminal record, making it more difficult to get a job or advance your career.




Alcohol and other drugs give you a false sense of confidence. You are not likely to worry about the consequences while you already are impaired or intoxicated. The time to consider them, and how to avoid them, is before you are under the influence.

  • If you regularly go to social events with the same group of friends, rotate drivers. Each friend takes a turn being the "designated driver" who does not drink alcohol.

  • Arrange to stay overnight or ride home with a friend who does not drink. Make plans ahead of time, before you start drinking.

  • Before you begin drinking, give your car keys to a friend who does not drink and who will not let you drive after drinking.

  • Call a cab or use public transportation.

  • Choose beverages with lower alcohol content, such as low-alcohol beers and wines.

  • Drink slowly. Alternate between drinks with alcohol and drinks without any alcohol.

  • Do not make alcohol the centerpiece of your social event. Conversation, games and recreation are the best reasons to get together with friends.

  • Eat a good meal before you drink, and have snacks while you drink.

  • If you've had too much alcohol to drink, stop drinking several hours before you intend to leave so your body can begin lowering your BAC.

  • Listen to your friends. Accept their help. If they warn you about not driving, take their concern seriously. Do not laugh it off or become angry.



Before going on to Chapter 10, make sure you can answer these questions:

  • How does drunken driving rank as a highway safety problem?

  • What are the effects of alcohol on the skills you need to drive?

  • Which of these drugs could affect your driving ability: marijuana, a cold remedy, a tranquilizer?

  • If you are taking a non-prescription drug, what should you do before driving?

  • What is a likely effect of taking another drug while drinking alcoholic beverages?

  • On what three factors does your blood alcohol content (BAC) depend?

  • Which of these contains more alcohol than the other two: 1½ ounces (30 ml) of 80 proof liquor, five ounces (120 ml) wine, 12 ounces (360 ml) of beer, 12 ounces (360 ml) of wine-cooler?

  • On average, how long does it take your body to dispose of the alcohol contained in 12 ounces of beer?

  • What is the only effective way to reduce your BAC?

  • What happens to your driver's license if you refuse a chemical test?

  • Other than fines, action against your license and a possible jail term, what are some of the consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs?


End of Chapter 9: check mark Take the Quiz!

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