North Carolina DWI Laws and Penalties 2024 Explained

Getting pulled over for DWI is a stressful situation, as a DWI conviction can have severe penalties. The aftermath of a DWI conviction can mean loss of employment or professional license and consequences an individual did not envision when first getting into the car. Understanding North Carolina DWI laws and penalties is essential to making informed decisions if you face this charge.

What Is DWI in North Carolina?

A DWI in North Carolina arises from operating a vehicle while “impaired” by alcohol or other substances. If you hear the term DUI in North Carolina, this has the same meaning. The state has a “zero tolerance” for drivers under 21. This designation means that if a driver under 21 is found with any detectable amount of alcohol or another substance in their system, they can receive a DWI.

The law is more lenient for drivers 21 and over, although it still discourages drivers from operating a vehicle while impaired. The legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit is .08% for non-commercial drivers. Commercial drivers, including bus drivers or drivers of large trucks, have a BAC limit of .04%. This level for commercial drivers is even lower in some circumstances.

DWI Levels and Penalties in North Carolina

North Carolina classifies DWI with a tiered system where the lowest numbers are the most severe. Penalties vary depending on the level of DWI conviction someone receives. A breakdown of penalties for each level is as follows:

Level 5 DWI Penalties

  • A $200 fine, and
  • A minimum 24-hour jail sentence and a maximum 60-day sentence or
  • A suspended jail sentence with the completion of 24 hours in jail, 24 hours of community service, and 30 days without driving a vehicle.

Level 4 DWI Penalties

  • A $500 fine, and
  • A minimum 48-hour jail sentence and a maximum 120-day sentence or
  • A suspended jail sentence with the completion of 48 hours in jail, 48 hours of community service, and 60 days without driving a vehicle.

Level 3 DWI Penalties

  • A $1,000 fine, and
  • A minimum 72-hour jail sentence and a maximum 6-month sentence or
  • A suspended jail sentence with the completion of 72 hours in jail, 72 hours of community service, and 90 days without driving a vehicle.

Level 2 DWI Penalties

  • A $2,000 fine, and
  • A minimum 7-day jail sentence and a maximum 1-year sentence.

Level 1 DWI Penalties

  • A $4,000 fine, and
  • A minimum 30-day jail sentence and a maximum 2-year sentence.

Note that jail sentences cannot be suspended for Levels 1 and 2. Level 1 and 2 drivers have different distinctions, such as previous convictions, a revoked license, transporting young children, or injuring others in a crash.

After a DWI Conviction

Although penalties may seem severe for DWI, additional consequences can stay with you for the rest of your life. Some of the long-term consequences are:

Increased Insurance Rates

Insurance premiums can be expensive in the United States for any driver. If convicted of a DWI, expect your car insurance to rise substantially or your plan to change. While the exact level your rate raises will depend on the offense and your overall driving record, the cost will increase and remain at the new rate for several years.

Ignition Interlock Device

Following the revocation and reinstatement of their license, drivers whose BAC was at or above 0.15% will have to use an ignition interlock device in their cars. Drivers who refuse blood and breathalyzer sobriety tests from law enforcement can also have this device installed.

The ignition interlock device requires a driver to perform a breath test before the car starts. This test confirms that the driver is sober before driving. Usually, the device will also perform “rolling tests” after it has been operated for some time to ensure the driver is still sober.

Individuals who meet specific household income requirements may be able to waive ignition interlock installations. The installation and maintenance of these devices cost the driver unless they apply and successfully waive the costs.

Employment Effects

While it is against the law to not hire someone due to a DWI conviction, some employers use the DWI shown on a potential hire’s background check to question their judgment. If this perceived lack of reliability can impact other job requirements that the company perceives as lacking in your application, the company might reject you.

Some professions require people with a DWI to disclose these or other convictions, and no matter what the law says, the social stigma of a DWI conviction can be just as important as the legal ramifications.


Q: What Are the Penalties for DWI in North Carolina?

A: The penalties for DWI vary depending on the level of DWI conviction a person receives. If the person acquires the highest DWI conviction, Level 1, they will have the most severe penalties:

  • A $4,000 fine, and
  • A minimum 30-day jail sentence and a maximum 2-year sentence.

The jail sentence is nonreducible.

The lower the level of DUI, the lesser the penalties. A shorter jail sentence and a lower fine will apply, but other levels may allow community service to reduce jail time.

Q: What Happens When You Get Your First DWI in NC?

A: After you get your first DWI conviction in North Carolina, your life will change dramatically. Regardless of the level of your conviction, you will spend at least 24 hours in jail. If you received a reduced jail sentence, you will likely have to perform at least 24 hours of community service, amongst other bargained consequences.

If your BAC was high enough in your stop, you may have an IID installed in your car after your license suspension is complete.

Your insurance premiums will rise after your DWI conviction, and your employment may be affected.

Q: Can a DWI Be Reduced in NC?

A: When possible, a defense attorney can seek to reduce a DWI in North Carolina. If an attorney can reduce a DWI charge, the court might change it to reckless driving. Possible negotiation factors include defenses against the charge, such as:

  • Test inaccuracy,
  • Procedural errors, or
  • Lack of probable cause with the traffic stop.

An additional negotiation factor is committing the driver to a defensive driving course.

Q: What Is the Process of a DWI in NC?

A: It is important to know the process of a DWI in North Carolina to protect yourself during a DWI stop. If arrested for DWI, remain silent. Politely request an attorney. You are not obligated to perform any sobriety test, but refusal of some tests will carry penalties. If they are sure they will fail the test, some people will refuse anyway and attempt to explain their refusal in court instead of explaining a positive test.

In all interactions with the officer, remain respectful but firm. You have legal rights and protection.

Retaining a Skilled North Carolina DWI Defense Attorney

A DWI conviction can have serious consequences, especially if you consider that there is no way to expunge a DWI conviction from your record in North Carolina. If you are facing a DWI charge in North Carolina, contact DUI lawyer Steven T. Meier, PLLC, today.

Request Your Free Consultation

"*" indicates required fields

I Have Read The Disclaimer*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Available 24/7 and Walk Ins Welcome