As an attorney, it is disappointing to find out just how many people do not understand the rules for Driving Under the Influence. When you hear the term “legal limit” you may be thinking of it like a speed limit and think that just because you’re under the legal limit for blood level intoxication, 0.08, that you are safe from getting a DUI. Not true!
RCW 46.61.502 defines the offense of Driving under the influence. But also keep in mind that under RCW 46.61.504, an occupant of a vehicle, i.e., someone who is not even operating the car, can be charged with a DUI if the person is in “actual physical control of the vehicle.” So just remember that you don’t have to be driving to get arrested.
Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol
For alcohol, Washington uses blood alcohol concentration (BAC) as its metric for determining alcoholic content. As a driver, you are guilty of Driving Under the Influence (and thus can be charged with a DUI) for having a BAC in excess of:
* 0.08, if above the age of 21
* 0.04, if operating a commercial vehicle
* 0.02, if below the age of 21
Remember that these are the only limits by which the State presumes that a driver has been operating a vehicle under the influence. The statute also has two catchall provisions. If a driver has operated the vehicle “While the person is under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug” (46.61.502(1)(c)) or “While the person is under the combined influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor, marijuana, and any drug”(46.61.502(1)(d)) the driver is also guilty of Driving Under the Influence.
So if a police officer determines from a traffic stop that you have been operating the vehicle under the influence of alcohol or other mind altering substances, the officer can take you into custody regardless of your actual blood alcohol level. Police officers are given broad discretion in their determination and assessment of a driver’s level of intoxication, so it is important for citizens to understand their rights and to have an attorney well-versed in the science behind DUI.
Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana
Marijuana has a similar legal limit to alcohol. If within two hours of operating a vehicle, the driver’s blood comes back with a THC concentration of 5.0 ng/ml or higher (nanograms per milliliter of whole blood), the driver has committed a DUI.
Driving Under the Influence of “Any Drug”
Also note that the statute above has a provision under 502(1)(c) and 502(1)(d) for “any drug.” This is another catchall. The next section makes clear “The fact that a person charged with a violation of [Driving under the influence] is or has been entitled to use a drug under the laws of this state shall not constitute a defense against a charge of violating this section.” If an officer decides that you are impaired by any drug, even drugs prescribed by a physician, you can be charged with a DUI. I know, I’m thinking the same thing: where’s the DUIs for all the coffee drinkers?