The Ultimate Guide to DUIs and DWIs in Washington State

Between 2012 and 2014, 56.6% of all auto collision fatalities in Washington state involved at least one driver driving under the influence.

1 in 4 drivers under the age of 21 who are arrested for DUI or DWI in the state will be arrested again for the same charge, despite the zero tolerance laws currently in place. 2.1% of adults over the age of 21 report driving after drinking too much in the past 30 days alone.

With over 28,000 people arrested for a DUI in 2016, there is still an incredible need for the enforcement of DUI and DWI laws in Washington state today.

Driving under the influence of alcohol has been illegal in the United States since the early 1900s. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, over half of all motor vehicle deaths involved drunk drivers. In response, greater awareness was raised and more severe consequences were put in place during this period. Along with the prevalence of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) groups, the United States began to see a decrease in the cases of drunk driving incidents.

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DUIs in Washington State

If you have found yourself on the receiving end of a driving under the influence charge, you are now reeling with the legal repercussions for DUI/DWI.

The severity of the consequences resulting from DUI laws will depend on the amount of prior DUI/DWI convictions you have received in the past 7 years, as well as your blood-alcohol content (BAC) at the time of your arrest. With up to 1 year in jail, $5,000 in fines, and a 4-year revocation of your license possible, driving under the influence in Washington state carries significant penalties.

Washington DUI Statistics

If you are struggling to make sense of your DUI/DWI charge in Washington state, this guide is for you. It contains information on what a DUI/DWI is, what the penalties are, how to navigate life after receiving a DUI or DWI, and various programs that you may be required to attend.

Navigating the result and impact of DUI laws on your life doesn't have to be handled alone. This guide can help you or your loved ones through the process of understanding what will happen in your future.

NOTE: In legal terms, the DUI laws in the state of Washington refers to driving under the influence charges as DUIs. However, since DUI and DWI are used interchangeably in everyday life, it will be beneficial to use the term DWI in addition to DUI in this guide. In order for the greatest amount of people to find help, DWI will also be used.

How can I be arrested for a DUI or DWI in Washington state? What are the WA state DUI laws?

Although it is likely common knowledge at this point, a DUI in Washington state stands for driving under the influence of any mind altering substance: alcohol, drugs, or both. You can still be charged with a DUI even if the drugs are legal, including recreational marijuana, prescription pills, or over-the-counter medications. Although the term is not used in the DUI laws in the state of Washington, DWI, which stands for driving while intoxicated, is often used quite interchangeably with the term DUI in everyday language.

DUI Guide

During a traffic stop when under the suspicion of driving under the influence, you may be subjected to a breathalyzer test. The breathalyzer will return the blood alcohol concentration (BAC), or the amount of alcohol in your blood, to determine whether or not you are legally intoxicated. You can be charged with a DUI/DWI when driving with a BAC of:

  • .08 or higher if you are an adult over 21
  • .04 or higher if you are driving a commercial vehicle
  • .02 or higher if you are under 21

You can also be arrested for a DUI or DWI in the state of Washington if you are found to be under the influence of any alcohol, drugs, or both, no matter the amount of substances found in your breath or blood. Though some states use the term DWI to refer to driving while intoxicated with any amount of a substance in your system, Washington state still refers to this charge as a DUI or physical control of a vehicle under the influence.

Need for DUI Enforcement

Although some states utilize sobriety checkpoints (a stop in the road, usually in heavily-trafficked areas, where officers can check large amounts of drivers for possibility of a DUI/DWI), DUI laws in Washington state make these stops illegal.

Officers must rely upon vigilance to seek out erratic or careless drivers, or upon routine traffic stops or burnt-out tail lights, to determine if an individual is under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Things may soon change for legal BAC levels, though, as a committee in the state of Washington House recently heard a bill that would lower the legal BAC limit from .08 to .05. It will be important to remain aware in the coming months of any changes to the current laws, as a lowered BAC limit will affect even casual drinkers out for the evening with a friend or loved one. Some proponents are critical of the bill as they worry it will incriminate harmless individuals and do little to affect the real problem of habitual drunk drivers.

Target Zero Teams in Washington

Target Zero Teams and Their Impact on Driving Under the Influence in Washington State

The state of Washington implemented a highway safety program called Target Zero in July 2010. Target Zero is the state's plan to maintain safe roadways by strictly enforcing DUI laws and other traffic safety laws in order to eliminate the number of people who die in highway accidents to zero by the year 2030. They approach this goal by utilizing teams of sergeants and troopers employed full-time in the most high risk areas of the state. Target Zero is currently implemented in:

  • King County
  • Pierce County
  • Snohomish County
  • Yakima County
  • Spokane County

Target Zero established a list of high-risk driving behaviors that cause fatalities every year, organizing them into Priority Levels based on their impact. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is listed as Priority Level One, along with speeding and drivers who are run off the road.

As sobriety checkpoints are not in the state of Washington according to DUI laws, Target Zero teams instead conduct DUI emphasis patrols. During these patrols, the Target Zero teams observe the most heavily-trafficked areas of these counties in order to seek out intoxicated drivers. They also implement the use of the Mobile Impaired Driving Unit, a large bus containing blood and breath testing capabilities as well as two holding cells, where they are able to test suspected drivers in the field.

DUI and Other Drugs

Can I get a DUI/DWI in the state of Washington for driving under the influence of marijuana?

With the legalization of marijuana in Washington state in November 2012, problems regarding individuals driving while high on weed became an increasing problem. Of the drivers involved in fatal car crashes who were tested for substances from 2010 to 2014, 20% of the individuals tested positive for marijuana. Additionally, the number of car crash fatalities in which the individual was under the influence of marijuana shot up 48% between 2013 and 2014.

DUI laws in Washington state set the legal limit for marijuana intoxication at 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood.

Some make the case that 5 nanograms is too low of a limit. As marijuana is a heavily tolerance-based drug, 5 nanograms can produce extremely varying effects in different people. Some consider themselves to be fully functional under such a dosage while others are entirely inebriated.

As marijuana remains in an individual's system for up to a month after consumption, It is still difficult for law officers to differentiate through testing between someone who was high at the time of arrest versus someone who smoked or ingested THC days or weeks prior. One of the easiest ways to determine intoxication is through a field sobriety test conducted after a traffic stop.

Regardless of how you feel after consuming any amount of marijuana, whether you feel "high" or not, Washington state's DUI laws are clear: if you are at all under the influence of any mind altering substance, you can be arrested for and charged with driving under the influence.

BAC Levels in Washington State DUIs

How can I know what my BAC is so that I'm not driving under the influence in WA state?

Usually it is impossible to determine your exact BAC level before you sit down in the driver's seat of a car. You could use a tool like a BAC Calculator but it will provide only an estimate, not a true measurement.

Due to the feelings of invincibility that intoxicants provide, many times you may feel as though you are "just fine" while, in reality, you are stumbling over your feet and slurring your words. As a result, individuals will most often grossly misjudge their ability to drive, especially when heavily under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Test for BAC

According to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the average 180 pound male will reach the legal limit of .08 after four drinks in one hour. The average 160 pound woman will surpass the legal limit after three drinks. A drink is defined as:

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol by volume)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol by volume)
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (40% alcohol by volume)

It's easy to pass the DUI laws' legal limit after just a few drinks while out with friends. While you may feel fine to drive, oftentimes your BAC says otherwise. Even if you are not over the BAC limit, though, if your driving is impaired by driving under the influence, you can be arrested for a DUI/DWI in the state of Washington.

With the ease of being able to hail a driver on command through phone apps such as Uber or Lyft, getting home without getting behind the wheel is easier than ever today. Plan ahead before going out with your friends and either assign someone to be the designated driver or make arrangements for a ride home. Getting a DUI or DWI in Washington state is not worth the consequences that will be outlined in the following section.

What happens once I'm arrested for a DUI/DWI in Washington state?

When you operate a motor vehicle in the state of Washington, under state DUI laws your consent to a blood or breath to determine your BAC test is implied. Therefore, when you are pulled over under the suspicion of being intoxicated, or if you are pulled over for a routine traffic stop and the officer believes you are driving under the influence, you will be subjected to a blood or breath test within two hours of your arrest after the court order is received. You will usually be released afterwards unless you caused a major accident or injury.

You will receive a notice of a civil administrative lawsuit either from the officer at the time of your arrest or sent to your house from the Washington State Department of Licensing. This means that your license will be suspended unless you contest the lawsuit by requesting a hearing within 20 days of being arrested.

Getting a DUI in Washington

NOTE: Make sure that your address listed on your driver's license is correct. All of the paperwork and information from the Washington State Department of Licensing and the courts of Washington state will be sent to this address. If you address is listed incorrectly or you no longer live there, you may not receive important information regarding your case and you will still be held responsible, whether or not the information was received.

If you choose to request a hearing, you must either pay a hearing fee or request a fee waiver. If you do not pass your hearing or you choose not to request one, your license will be suspended 60 days after your arrest for a period of either 90 days, 1 year, 2 years or more.

Additionally, a prosecutor will bring your case to court and you will receive a court summons. Again, regardless of your level of intoxication, you can still be charged with a DUI or DWI. The DUI laws in the state of Washington do not differentiate between buzzed and drunk; if you are at all intoxicated, you can be charged.

At the hearing, you will appear before a judge and a jury and will be asked to enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty. The prosecution will then present their evidence and the jury will make a decision regarding your charge.

If there is a reasonable doubt that you broke the DUI laws, the jury will decide whether or not to acquit you of your charge. If the jurors cannot agree, the jury will be "hung" (not able to reach a verdict), a new jury will be appointed, and your case will return to court.

If the jury chooses to charge you, you will then receive your sentence from the judge which can include additional license suspension, fines, and/or jail time. The severity of your sentencing and the legal repercussions for DUI/DWI depends upon the seriousness of your case (including whether or not someone was injured or killed), whether or not your BAC was above 0.15 at the time of your arrest, and whether or not you have previous DUI charges in the past 7 years.

Possible Legal Repercussions for DUI/DWI in Washington State

Washington state's DUI laws impose a variety of legal repercussions for DUI/DWI charges, including additional license suspension, fines, and jail time. The severity of your charges depend on multiple factors, including whether or not you have received a charge within the look-back period in the state of Washington.

DUI Legal Repercussions

Some legal repercussions for DUI/DWI, such as license suspension, are applied to you by the Washington State Department of Licensing and will be imposed whether or not you are convicted. Sentences such as DUI/DWI assessments, jail time, or fines are applied by the court system of Washington state and depend upon whether or not you are found guilty of a DUI or DWI.

Not all lengths or amounts of sentences are guaranteed; they will vary depending on what you are sentenced to by the judge of your court hearing and to what extent you broke the DUI laws in Washington state.

A look-back period helps courts identify the recidivism rates of those with DUI or DWI charges within a certain period of time. The DUI laws set a look-back period for a DUI or DWI in the state of Washington of 7 years.

If you are charged for driving under the influence multiple times within a 7-year period, your sentence will carry a greater weight. The greater the amount of charges you receive in this 7-year period, the heavier the legal repercussions for DUI/DWI will be.

Your BAC level at the time of your arrest will have an effect on your DUI or DWI sentencing if it is above 0.15. Your sentencing will be much harsher with this higher BAC level as the danger you impose upon your community while operating a motor vehicle is much higher.

As mentioned previously, if you operate a motor vehicle in the state of Washington, your consent to a blood or breath test is implied through the DUI laws of Washington state. If you refuse to take a blood or breath test upon your arrest this will impact your legal repercussions for DUI/DWI. Your test refusal carries much harsher penalties, identical to those of an individual whose BAC was above 0.15, as your guilt is essentially assumed. It is always in your best interest to comply with an officer's request for a blood or breath test unless you want immediately more severe penalties, from your license suspension to fines to jail time.

If you are driving with a minor under the age of 16 in the vehicle, you will face mandatory additional legal repercussions for DUI/DWI if you are convicted. The additional fines and jail time depend on how many prior convictions you have had within the 7-year look-back period:

  • First DUI or DWI: 1 day in jail and $1,200 to $5,200 in fines
  • Second DUI or DWI: 5 days in jail and $2,200 to $5,200 in fines
  • Third or More DUIs or DWIs: 10 days in jail and $3,200 to $5,200 in fines

An ignition interlock device is a device installed in a motor vehicle that is attached to the ignition, which functions as a breathalyzer and allows you to start the vehicle. These devices are installed in order to prevent individuals with alcohol in their system from driving. You must blow into the IID and have no alcohol in your system in order for you to be able to start your car.

As of January 1st, 2011, DUI laws in Washington state changed and all individuals charged with a DUI or DWI must have an IID installed in their vehicle for at least one year after their suspended license is reinstated. The length of installation depends upon the amount of DUI or DWI convictions in Washington state you have received within the lookback period:

  • First DUI or DWI: 1 year of installed IID
  • Second DUI or DWI: 5 years of installed IID
  • Third or More DUIs or DWIs: 10 years of installed IID

Sometimes offered instead of jail time for those with legal repercussions for DUI/DWI, the 24/7 Sobriety Program is offered by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. If you are involved in the 24/7 Sobriety Program, you submit to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week monitoring during which you may be tested for the presence of alcohol or drugs via blood, breath, urine, or other bodily substances at any time.

The 24/7 Sobriety Program is offered only for first-time DUI or DWI offenders and is not intended as a drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation program. Instead, it is aimed only to reduce the recidivism of driving under the influence and to keep the community safe.


Legal Repercussions for a First, Second, or Third DUI/DWI in WA State

BAC Below 0.15

  • DUI/DWI Assessment
  • License Suspension: 90 days
  • Fines: $350 to $5,000
  • Jail Time: At least 24 hours
  • OR Electronic Home Monitoring: At least 15 days
  • OR 24/7 Sobriety Program: At least 90 days

BAC Above 0.15 or Test Refusal

  • DUI/DWI Assessment
  • License Revocation: 1 year if above 0.15 or 2 years if test refusal
  • Fines: $500 to $5,000
  • Jail Time: At least 48 hours
  • OR Electronic Home Monitoring: At least 30 days
  • OR 24/7 Sobriety Program: At least 120 days

BAC Below 0.15

  • DUI/DWI Assessment
  • License Revocation: 2 years
  • Fines: $500 to $5,000
  • Jail Time: At least 30 days
  • OR Electronic Home Monitoring: 60 days

BAC Above 0.15 or Test Refusal

  • DUI/DWI Assessment
  • License Suspension: 900 days if above 0.15 or 3 years if test refusal
  • Fines: $750 to $5,000
  • Jail Time: At least 45 days
  • OR Electronic Home Monitoring: 90 days

BAC Below 0.15

  • DUI/DWI Assessment
  • License Revocation: 3 years
  • Fines: $1,000 to $5,000
  • Jail Time: At least 90 days
  • OR Electronic Home Monitoring: 120 days

BAC Above 0.15 or Test Refusal

  • DUI/DWI Assessment
  • License Revocation: 4 years if above 0.15 or test refusal
  • Fines: $1,500 to $5,000
  • Jail Time: At least 120 days
  • OR Electronic Home Monitoring: 150 days

WA State DUI Assessments

Sometimes the legal repercussions for DUI/DWI due to breaking the DUI laws in Washington state will include a DUI/DWI assessment. These assessment will search for signs of substance dependence which you will likely exhibit if you struggle with addiction or alcoholism.

When subjected to a DUI/DWI assessment, the court will use the findings to help determine whether or not court ordered treatment for DUI/DWI will prove to be beneficial in reducing your recidivism for driving under the influence.

DUI/DWI assessments are conducted by state-licensed facilities. It is important that you select or are assigned to a properly accredited facility which will take into account every aspect of your life during the assessment. The individual assigned to conduct your assessment will help you through the process and possibly explain to you how the assessment will help. Be sure that you are honest during this assessment because if you are struggling with substance dependence, addiction, or alcoholism, it may lead to lifesaving treatment for you.

If you have received repeat DUI or DWI charges for breaking DUI laws, you may receive a sentence of court ordered treatment for DUI/DWI in Washington state. You may also opt to defer potential charges into a sentence of drug and alcohol treatment. Depending on what the court sentences you to, there are a variety of treatment types available for you if you are struggling with drug or alcohol dependence, addiction, or alcoholism.

Court ordered treatment for DUI/DWI will include detox if you are severely addicted to or dependent upon alcohol or drugs to function. Drug and alcohol detox is the medically supervised process of separating from drugs and/or alcohol, usually with the assistance of medication. During detox, doctors and nurses keep watch over you to help manage your withdrawal symptoms and ensure you are safe and as comfortable as possible.

Sometimes the withdrawals you will experience when removing drugs or alcohol from your system will be so severe (such as when you are addicted to prescription painkillers or heroin) that a medically supervised and managed detox will essentially be a requirement in order for you to be safe. Your court ordered treatment for DUI/DWI will likely include detox if this is necessary.

Inpatient rehab for drugs or alcohol provides a residential setting for you to begin your path to recovery and sobriety. During inpatient rehab, you will be supervised 24 hour a day, 7 days a week, and attend programming throughout the day. During court ordered treatment for DUI/DWI that consists of inpatient rehab, you will be required to stay at the facility, including overnight, for the length determined by the court.

Inpatient rehab provides programs which include individual and group therapy with a cognitive behavioral therapy approach as well as educational and informational presentations. Court ordered treatment for DUI/DWI that includes inpatient rehab will be incredibly beneficial if you struggle with substance dependence. These sessions will teach you ways to manage your triggers and cravings, which will help you learn to stay sober. Without these essential coping skills, long-term recovery will prove to be incredibly difficult.

Inpatient rehab may also involve the use of 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Meetings may be held inside the facility or you may be transported to meetings outside the facility within the community. Although it may not work for everyone, many addicts and alcoholics have found successful recovery through the use of 12-step programs. When in inpatient rehab, though, you might not have a choice about attending. You may feel as though Anonymous programs are not for you but giving them a chance may be helpful for your recovery.

Intensive outpatient programs that are court ordered treatment for DUI/DWI will be extremely beneficial if you are in school or have a full time job. IOP provides treatment on an outpatient basis, meaning you will be allowed to leave the facility once sessions are through for the day. You are not required to stay overnight like you are during inpatient rehab. This ensures your ability to continue attending school or work during the day while going through treatment at night.

IOP teaches many of the same trigger and craving management learned in inpatient rehab but on a less-intensive basis. Programs last anywhere from a month to three months, and some are even longer. Program length depends upon the facility you choose to attend.

Like inpatient rehab, 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous may be incorporated. It may also be suggested or required that you attend meetings outside of your IOP. These may prove to be helpful to your recovery efforts so it will be beneficial for you to give them a chance.

How do I manage after being charged with a DUI/DWI?

The best way to handle the charge of a DUI or DWI in Washington state is to do exactly as the court has ordered you to do. Go to the programs you are sentenced to for breaking DUI laws, attend jail if necessary, pay your fines. Dodging these penalties will only result in more severe consequences in the long run.

Receiving a DUI or DWI in the state of Washington is not the end of your life.

Although there are some serious legal repercussions for DUI/DWI charges, you will eventually be through to the other side of them as long as you play by the rules. If the charges have done their job, you will never be arrested for driving under the influence again; you will learn your lesson.

In order to avoid future charges, ensure you have a plan before heading out for the night. Choose a designated driver, hail a taxi, or call for a ride. Your sanity and your bank account will thank you.

Talk to a Rehab Specialist

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Washington DUI DWI Guide