DUI and DWI Laws in WA State You’ll Want to Know About

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DUI and DWI Laws in WA State You’ll Want to Know About


24,627 drivers were arrested last year for a DUI or DWI in Washington state.

Between 2003 and 2012, a total of 1,921 people were killed as a result of individuals driving under the influence in WA state. 37% of all traffic fatalities in the state are a result of at least one driver driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, the 8th highest in the nation. With alcohol and drugs having such a drastic impact on the operation of motor vehicles, the current DUI laws are an absolute necessity to help keep the roadways safe.


DUI laws in Washington state apply to any individual operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of any mind-altering substance, such as alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs. The DUI laws do not differentiate between legal and illegal substances; even prescription painkillers that are prescribed to you are still considered a mind-altering substance if they affect your driving performance. If your behavior is impacted in any way by the substances in your body, you can be arrested for driving under the influence and subject to the legal repercussions for DUI/DWI.


DUI vs. DWI usually refers to the level of intoxication and whether or not the driver was past the legal BAC limit. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) implies the driver was intoxicated by a substance but did not reach the legal limit of intoxication. Driving under the influence (DUI) is reserved only for those who are above the legal BAC limit of 0.08. Legal repercussions for DUI/DWI differ depending on the level of intoxication upon your arrest in the states who abide by these distinctions.

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When comparing DUI vs. DWI, though, you must consider the state you are talking about. There is actually no mention of the term DWI on the Washington State Department of Licensing website. Instead, according to DUI laws in Washington state, drivers who are intoxicated but not above the legal limit are charged with

However, the terms DUI and DWI are still used interchangeably in everyday language, DWI will also be used so that people searching can find the help they need.


Legal Limits for DUI/DWI in Washington State

Regardless of the amount of alcohol in your blood or breath, you can still be charged with a DUI/DWI in Washington state if your ability to drive was impacted by the substances in your system. However, if you are arrested for driving under the influence and your blood alcohol content (BAC) is above the legal limit, the legal repercussions for DUI/DWI will be more severe.

The legal limit for intoxication in WA state is:

  • 0.08 BAC for adults 21 and over
  • 0.04 BAC for those operating a commercial vehicle
  • 0.02 BAC for minors or those under 21

Oftentimes you may not realize how intoxicated you actually are as the legal limit is easy to achieve. You may not notice the impact, but it only takes two to four drinks within an hour to reach a 0.08 BAC. Your best option is to appoint a designated driver in your group or to utilize a service like Uber or Lyft. With the surge in popularity of Uber and Lyft due to the ease of hailing a sober driver, it is surprising that the rate of arrests for DUI/DWI is still so high in Washington state.


Legal Marijuana in WA State – It’s Still Driving Under the Influence

The recent legalization of marijuana in Washington state has caused another upsurge in the arrests for driving under the influence. Again, DUI laws in Washington state that driving while intoxicated with any substance that alters your mindset, whether or not the substance is legal, can result in a DUI/DWI charge. The legal limit for marijuana intoxication is 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood.

There is some discourse between the population who responsibly uses marijuana and law enforcement officials. As marijuana is a drug to which you can build a tolerance, some daily users of marijuana are able to function quite well while under the influence. Even when they are above the 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood, they can carry themselves quite well. However, if they are arrested and test above this legal limit, they will still be charged for DUI/DWI in Washington state.

Additionally, there are difficulties in determining exactly how high someone is while in the field. The best way for an officer to determine if someone is under the influence is to conduct a field sobriety test. Officers who are certified as Drug Recognition Experts are most qualified to differentiate between individuals who are driving under the influence and those who are merely clumsy. However, there are many signs to look for while conducting a field sobriety test that is usually obvious in those who are intoxicated to some degree.

Still, regardless of how capable you may feel while you’re high, it affects your ability to quickly react to situations that may occur while driving. A study released in 2016 showed that in 17% of the fatal car accidents in Washington state, one of the individuals involved had THC (one of the active components of marijuana) in their system. Though you may not think you’re affected by the marijuana you consumed, it is in your best interest to think twice before getting behind the wheel of a car unless you want to face the legal repercussions for DUI/DWI in the state of Washington.


The legality of Sobriety Checkpoints in Washington State and How to Deal With It

Sobriety checkpoints are a tool used in many states to get a larger number of individuals driving under the influence off the road in a shorter period of time. Law officers will select a highly-trafficked location such as downtown areas or places with lots of restaurants and bars. They will set up a stop in the middle of the road through which each driver must pass. Sometimes every driver is stopped and talked to, but when the locations are too congested officers will stop only those who appear to be intoxicated while passing through.

However, according to DUI laws in the state of Washington, the use of sobriety checkpoints is not authorized. This creates difficulties for officers who are trying to keep the roads safe. In response, the state of Washington developed the Target Zero initiative, aimed to reduce the number of highway fatalities in Washington state to zero by the year 2030. The Target Zero teams instead conduct Emphasis Patrol Areas in heavily populated counties who are most at risk for fatalities from driving under the influence.

Greater numbers of officers are assigned to Emphasis Patrol Areas, especially those who are certified as Drug Recognition Experts. These sergeants and troopers are on the lookout for individuals driving under the influence and are able to get greater amounts of dangerous drivers off of the road. Those arrested face the legal repercussions for DUI/DWI in Washington state. Currently, the Target Zero teams patrol King, Pierce, Snohomish, Yakima, and Spokane counties.


Legal Repercussions for DUI/DWI in the State of Washington

There are a variety of legal repercussions for DUI/DWI charges in Washington state, and their severity depends upon a variety of factors:

  • BAC at the time of the arrest
  • Whether or not a blood or breath test was refused
  • Number of DUI/DWI arrests within the 7-year look-back period
  • If there was a car accident and someone was harmed or killed

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If your BAC is above 0.15, if you refused a blood or breath test, if you have more than one DUI/DWI arrest or charge prior to the present one, or if you harmed someone in a car accident, you will obviously face more severe charges. The legal repercussions for DUI/DWI in the state of Washington include:

  • Suspension or revocation of driver’s license for 90 days to 4 years
  • Jail time for 1 day to 1 year
  • Fines from $1,195 to $5,000
  • Ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle
  • DUI/DWI assessment

With the introduction of a mandatory ignition interlock device for all individuals charged with DUI/DWI in the state of Washington on January 1st, 2011, drunk driving deaths have dropped by 18%. This reduction in fatalities may further decrease with the impact of the legal repercussions for DUI/DWI implemented in the lives of those arrested for driving under the influence. The use of Target Zero teams will hopefully cause a decrease in the number of arrests and fatalities as well.


Court Ordered Drug and Alcohol Treatment in Washington State

If you are determined to have a drug or alcohol abuse or substance dependence problem while in court to be sentenced to legal repercussions for DUI/DWI, you may be court-ordered to drug and alcohol treatment. Though this may seem like a giant hassle to you at the time, if you are truly struggling with addiction or alcoholism, this conviction has the possibility to save your life.

There are a few different types of court-ordered drug and alcohol treatment for DUI/DWI in Washington state:

  • Drug and alcohol detox: Detox is often necessary if you are severely addicted to drugs or alcohol and will help separate you from your substance of choice. Especially when using drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers, you will experience withdrawal symptoms if you used large amounts. Alcohol detoxification and rehabilitation usually provides medication-assisted weaning from drugs and alcohol and will help to manage your withdrawal symptoms.
  • Inpatient rehab: Inpatient drug and alcohol rehab provides a residential sober environment on a 30-, 60- or 90-day basis. During inpatient rehab, you will live with a group of other individuals working to get sober and will attend individual and group therapy as well as presentations on substance dependence and abuse. Some inpatient rehab facilities also implement the use of 12-step programs in their approach.
  • Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP): IOP provides drug and alcohol treatment on an outpatient basis, meaning you do not have to stay overnight at the facility. You attend individual and group therapy sessions lead by certified drug and alcohol professionals who teach coping skills, trigger management, and drug and alcohol awareness. IOP is beneficial when you have a full-time job or attend school as you are able to be present for those engagements during the day while attending treatment at night.

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Avoiding a DUI/DWI in Washington State

The best way to avoid being arrested or charged for a DUI or DWI in the state of Washington is to not drive under the influence in the first place. If you do not operate a motor vehicle while you are intoxicated, there is no way for you to be arrested or charged. Find a sober friend who can drive you or call for an Uber or Lyft driver to take you home. With all the options available today, there is no excuse for being charged with driving under the influence. Avoid the legal repercussions for DUI/DWI in Washington state by making smart choices while out with your friends on a Friday night.

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2021-08-06T15:51:25+00:00August 27th, 2019|3 Comments


  1. […] Meanwhile, drunk driving contributes to over a third of traffic fatalities in WA, and alcohol-related causes kill more than 5,000 Washington residents under age 21 every single year. That’s not just from drunk driving accidents or alcohol poisoning, but also murders, suicides and accidents stemming from alcohol use. […]

  2. […] marijuana in a different light which could cause more usage overall. In Washington, they bunch a DWI in as a DUI so youth driving while high will never be an examined statistic. More in-depth studies and […]

  3. […] have had DUI’s or DWI’s numerous […]

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