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drugged driving laws

a state-by-state breakdown

When it comes to drinking and driving, the law is clearly defined. But driving under the influence of drugs? Well, that's where things get a little hazy. Testing for drugs is more difficult than breathing into a tube, and the laws vary significantly in each state. Read on to learn about how your state targets drugged driving.

Drugged driving laws

police

In all states but Hawaii and New York, driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) is treated as the same offense as driving under the influence of alcohol. The only problem is that unlike alcohol, drugs aren't easily tested for — they come in all shapes and sizes, and it's difficult for lawmakers to keep up.

Though DUID laws are different across the country, states will generally prosecute drivers based on one or more of the following criteria:

Impairment

The most common state laws regarding DUIDs state that the driver must be "impaired" by a given substance or "incapable" of driving safely to be guilty of a DUID — which essentially means that to get a conviction, prosecutors have to show that a driver was actually impaired behind the wheel. These states don't necessarily set a legal blood limit. They generally leave the definition of "impaired" up to the discretion of law enforcement and prosecutors.

Habitual use

Another version of DUID law (in 5 states) makes it illegal for drug addicts or habitual users to drive at all. As is the case with most DUID laws, the terms "drug addict" and "habitual user" can be hard to define.

California does make allowances for addicts who are participating in drug-treatment programs.

Incapacitation

improper signaling

Impairment and incapacitation may sound similar, but there's a key difference. In the 14 states with incapacitation laws as of 2012, prosecutors have to go one step further by proving that a driver is incapable of driving safely — not just impaired. To convict, the prosecution has to prove not only that the driver was intoxicated but that the effects of the drug actually rendered them unable to drive safely.

Per se (zero tolerance)

"Per se" translates as "in itself" — meaning that having any trace of drugs in your system while driving is in itself a crime, even if those drugs aren't on active duty in your brain. Seventeen states have some form of per se or zero-tolerance drugged driving laws, though regulations vary.

Laws by state (as of 2012)

Here's how the law breaks down in your state:

Intoxication/
impairment
Incapacitation Per se/
zero tolerance
Habitual use4
Alaska
California
Colorado
Connecticut
D.C.
Florida
Hawaii
Idaho
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Massachusetts
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New York
Oregon
South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas
Washington
West Virginia
Alabama
Arkansas
Kansas
Maryland
New Mexico
North Dakota
Oklahoma
Vermont
Wyoming
Arizona
Delaware
Georgia
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Michigan
Minnesota1
Nevada3
North Carolina2
Ohio3
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Dakota2
Utah
Virginia3
Wisconsin
California
Colorado
Idaho
Kansas
West Virginia

Note: Drugged driving laws are quite complex. Most per se states also have intoxication or under-the-influence laws, and some states have multiple laws that fall into the above categories. We give preference to the harsher law in this chart to give you an idea of how states penalize drugged driving.

1 Marijuana exempted from per se law, but included under regular impairment law
2 Per se law applies only to drivers under 21 (drivers 21 or older fall under impairment laws)
3 Law defines legal limits for specified substances in bloodstream

DUID penalties

There are a few things DUID penalties have in common no matter what state you're in: offenders are generally looking at jail time, license suspension, and heavy fines.

California, for instance, requires a minimum of 4 days in jail, with fines ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, with penalties increasing drastically for subsequent DUIDs.

And that's not even including the heavy impact a DUID can have on a driver's insurance rates. Just like DUIs caused by alcohol, DUIDs are a big red flag on a driving record and tend to result in insurance premium increases since they indicate a tendency of unsafe driving.

The best way to keep your insurance rates low is to stay safe on the road. Driving on drugs (even legal ones) can have disastrous consequences, so make sure you know how you'll be affected before you get behind the wheel.

Related links

The true cost of a DUI
Get the facts about how much a DUI will really cost you.

DUIs and car insurance
Find out how a DUI conviction can affect your car insurance premium.

Teen driving tips
Teens are at high risk for accidents involving drugs or alcohol. Learn how to keep them safe.