Drunk Driving Terminology

When you’re involved in a DUI or drunk driving case, you’ll hear a lot of terms that might not be familiar to you. The purpose of this glossary is to give you working definitions that will help you understand the charges against you and the proceedings to resolve them.

Absorption Rate: How quickly alcohol is absorbed into the blood stream after it is consumed. It is affected by the amount of food in the stomach, type of drink and biological factors.

APS or Administrative Per Se Laws: Most states have per se laws that allow the department of motor vehicles to suspend the license of anyone who is arrested for a DUI/DWI/OUI/OWI after failing a breathalyzer or blood test. These laws make it possible to suspend a license before actual conviction or the admittance of guilt.

Administrative License Suspension/Revocation: In more than 40 states, a driver’s license is confiscated when a blood alcohol test is refused. An automatic suspension is in effect.

BAC: See Blood Alcohol Concentration below.

Blood Alcohol Concentration: BAC, the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream measured as a percentage. The measurement might be made through breath, urine or blood tests. The blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, is used in most states to determine whether or not a person meets the legal definition of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Breathalyzer: Often portable, it is a machine used by law enforcement to measure BAC.

Burnoff Rate: The rate at which a person’s body uses up, or metabolizes, alcohol. It is affected by age, weight, amount of physical activity and other factors.

Conditional License: A license given to someone convicted of drunk driving. It can be used during a suspension period for the purposes of driving to work, alcohol counseling or other approved activities.

DUI: This acronym stands for “driving under the influence” and is a term used in most states to mean driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. See DWI, DUII, DUIL, OUI and OWI.

DUI School: Alcohol education classes designed to educate drivers about the risks and penalties of drunk driving.

DUII: Driving under the influence of an intoxicant.

DUIL: Driving under the influence of liquor.

DWI: Driving while intoxicated or driving while impaired.  In some states, it is synonymous with DUI or similar term. However, it might also mean a higher or lower BAC and have different penalties than DUI. These vary by state.

Dram Shop: A technical/legal term for an establishment that serves alcoholic beverages.

Dram Shop Liability: The legal liabilities faced by dram shops for serving alcohol to someone who is already under the influence.

Drunk Driving: A catch-all term for DUI, DWI, DUII, OWI, etc.

Enhancements: Factors in a DUI case that lead to stiffer penalties. Enhancements include speeding and getting into an accident during a DUI incident.

FST or Field Sobriety Test: FSTs are used to test mental or physical coordination, an indicator of whether a driver might be impaired. Common sobriety tests include reciting the alphabet, counting backwards, touching the tip of your nose, following an object with your eyes, standing on one leg, walking heel to toe and others.

Ignition Interlock Device: This device includes a breathalyzer. It is installed on a vehicle and prevents it from being started if the person’s BAC is over the legal limit. In some states, a person convicted of DUI might be forced to have one installed on their care and leave if for a specified period of time.

Implied Consent: This is a legal term that means if you drive, you have given law enforcement your implied consent to require you to take a BAC test.

Intoxylizer: A popular brand of breathalyzer.

HGN/Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: This is a common FST in which the driver is asked to follow an object with his or her eyes. Rather than following smoothly, the eyes of someone under the influence of alcohol will tend to follow in a start/stop fashion.

Miranda Rights: Law requires that someone suspected of a crime must be advised of their rights – such as the right to remain silent or the right to have an attorney present during questioning—before questioning starts.

Open Container: A container such as a can, cup, bottle or glass containing an alcoholic beverage.

Open Container Laws: In most states, it is illegal to have an open container in a vehicle even if the driver is not driving under the influence. A ticket is the typical result.

OUI: Operating a motor vehicle under the influence.

OWI: Operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

Reasonable Doubt: While the definition of reasonable doubt varies by state, it is a term used to define the level of certainty a jury must have in order to convict in a drunk driving case. Jurors must be certain “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Restricted License: Sometimes called a provisional license, it refers to the granting of driving privileges while a driver’s license is suspended. Driving may be allowed for getting to work, to alcohol education classes or other approved reasons.

Rising Curve or Rising BAC Defense: This is a common defense used by DUI attorneys. It states that because alcohol takes time to absorb into the blood stream, and since a blood test isn’t usually taken for 30-60 minutes after the arrest, the BAC determined by a blood test can be much higher than it was at the time the person was driving.

Rhomberg Test: Formal name of the FST that requires a person to tilt their head back, close their eyes and touch their nose with their index finger.

Risk Reduction: Educational programs designed to educate drivers about the potential risks of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Sobriety Checkpoint: A roadblock set up, usually during times when drunk driving is at a peak, to systematically stop drivers to look for cases of driving under the influence.

Standard Field Sobriety Test: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends specific FST tests for standardized use throughout the country.

Vehicle: This can refer to any mode of transportation. Laws vary, but DUI laws can apply to operating a car, truck, commercial vehicle, motorcycle, mini-bike, scooter, snowmobile, ATV, boat, personal watercraft, bicycle, lawn tractor or even a horse.

Vehicle Impounding: When a driver has been arrested for DUI, his or her vehicle might be towed to a designated, secure lot.

Vehicle Immobilization: Any device that prevents a vehicle from being driven. It might be an ignition interlock or a simple mechanical boot applied to a tire/wheel.

Zero Tolerance: Laws that make it illegal to operate a motorized vehicle with any BAC level. For example, most states make it illegal for drivers under the legal drinking age to operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of .02 or higher.