DUI in New Jersey

What is a DUI in New Jersey?

Each year, many people lose their lives in alcohol or drug-impaired driving (DUI) crashes in the United States—and even more sustain considerable injuries.

Crash reports published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the number of fatalities occurring from alcohol-impaired driving at roughly 10,000 annually in the country.

A DUI (or Driving Under the Influence) is a term used to describe an offense of driving while intoxicated by alcohol, drugs, or other controlled substances. The 50 US states and the District of Columbia have varying terminologies for this offense; some choosing to call it a DUI, some preferring the OUI, OWVI, DWI, DWAI, OVI, or OWI acronyms, and others opting to use two acronyms interchangeably to describe impaired driving.

In New Jersey, a drunk or drugged driving offense is known as a DWI, Driving While Intoxicated but, sometimes, it can be referred to as a DUI. New Jersey DWI’s are considered criminal offenses and records of these crimes are typically included in New Jersey criminal records depending on the nature and severity of the offense.

Although a DWI will often occur on a road or highway, it is not merely a traffic violation. The state does not consider the offense as accidental, harmless, or minor. As such, anyone who commits a DWI in New Jersey is subject to the provisions of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. That person will incur penalties from the courts and the state's Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC). These penalties include a loss of freedom, suspension of driver's license, mandatory fines, community service, compulsory participation in a treatment program, and so on.

What is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in New Jersey?

When referring to impaired driving offenses, the DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) acronym is used more in New Jersey's legislature than DUI (Driving Under the Influence). However, it is still commonplace for the public and some state agencies to switch the DWI term for DUI and vice versa. Regardless of what expression is used, the description and penalties for such offenses are the same in New Jersey.

New Jersey DUI Laws

Section 39:4-50 of the New Jersey Statutes Annotated (N.J.S.A) contains the state's DWI/DUI laws. Per the law, an individual can be charged with the offense of drunk driving if such a person operates a vehicle while having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more or while under the influence of a hallucinogenic, narcotic, or habit-producing drug.

However, according to the state, a person can still be convicted of a DWI if their BAC is less than 0.08 percent, provided their judgment, reaction time, alertness, or vision were compromised at the time of the offense due to alcohol consumption. Furthermore, allowing someone else to operate a motor vehicle while that person violates the state's DWI laws can lead to one's conviction.

In the state, several agencies contribute in one way or the other to ensuring road safety and penalizing people who disregard the DWI laws. Among them are the state courts, law enforcement agencies, the Department of Law & Public Safety, the Department of Human Services, and the Motor Vehicle Commission.

The courts and police work together to catch and prosecute DWI offenders. Meanwhile, the Department of Law & Public Safety's Division of Highway Traffic Safety (HTS) works to avert motor vehicle collisions and the associated injuries, fatalities, and property damage.

The Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, a division of the Department of Human Services, is responsible for administering the Intoxicated Driving Program (IDP), an alcohol and highway safety education course, which everyone convicted of a drug or alcohol-related driving offense is required to undergo if ordered by the court.

On the other hand, the Motor Vehicle Commission takes administrative license action (e.g., the withdrawal of driving privileges) on any person arrested, not necessarily convicted, because of a DWI offense in New Jersey.

DUI Penalties in New Jersey

A DWI/DUI in New Jersey attracts legal and administrative penalties. In most cases, a guilty person is liable to spend some time in jail, pay a substantial fine (and other mandatory fees and surcharges), and have their driver's license suspended. Other DWI penalties in New Jersey include:

  • Community service
  • House arrest
  • Completion of an Intoxicated Driver Program
  • Ignition interlock device installation

What Happens When You Get a DWI in New Jersey?

Impaired driving offenses are either called DWIs or DUIs in New Jersey (although DWI is more commonly used in the state). As such, the same set of events play out whether an individual is arrested or detained on DUI or DWI allegations.

Generally, an individual arrested for a DWI will be prosecuted by the court and Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC). The courts will impose penalties (e.g., fines and jail time) upon a conviction, while the MVC can suspend the person's driving privileges, even when the driver is freed from the charges.

Following a DWI arrest, an individual will be taken to the police station and asked to take a second test to check their blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The first test will occur on a road or highway after being pulled over, which usually involves a field sobriety test or breath test.

Should the roadside test show illegal concentrations of alcohol or drugs in a driver's system or hint at the driver's inebriation, the individual will be arrested and transported to a police station. (Apart from the arrest, the police will also impound the driver's vehicle for 12 hours or until the driver meets the conditions for release under N.J.S.A 39:4-50.23). Afterward, the individual will be released from the station and given a date for their first court appearance (or "arraignment").

Note that refusing a breath, blood, or urine test in New Jersey can result in the forfeiture (suspension) of a person's right to operate a motor vehicle in the state for some time. This is because people who drive or operate a vehicle on the state's roadway are subject to the state's implied consent laws (N.J.S.A 39:4-50.2): they are considered to have surrendered their right to refuse an alcohol/breathalyzer test.

Refusing to submit to a chemical test can result in penalties similar to a DWI conviction, including:

  • License suspension for up to 8 years.
  • Ignition interlock device for 4 years or less following the restoration of one's license.
  • Fines ranging from $300 to $1,000.
  • A $1,000 or $1,500/year automobile insurance surcharge for 3 years.
  • Referral to an Intoxicated Driver Program.
  • A $100 surcharge to the Drunk Driving Enforcement Fund.

All in all, an individual charged with a DWI in New Jersey is advised to hire legal representation immediately. This is to avoid any mistakes that could jeopardize a person's rights and ensure a more favorable outcome than that which would have been obtained had the accused proceeded sans lawyer.

What Happens When You Get a DUI for the First Time in New Jersey?

Per N.J.S.A 39:4-50, an individual can be convicted for a first DWI or DUI charge if:

  • The person's blood alcohol concentration was .08% or higher, but less than .10%, or the person was operating a vehicle while inebriated. An individual can also be convicted for permitting someone with that BAC level to operate their motor vehicle or boat.

The punishment for a first DWI/DUI offense in New Jersey are as follows:

  1. For a BAC of .08% but less than .10%
    • A fine of $250 to $400.
    • Incarceration for up to 30 days.
    • Driver's license forfeiture until the installation of an ignition interlock device. The interlock device must remain functional on the driver's vehicle for 3 months.
    • 12 to 48-hour detainment at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC).
    • At least 6 hours per day of mandatory alcohol classes for 2 consecutive days at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC).
    • An automobile insurance surcharge of $1,000/year for 3 years.
  2. For a BAC of .10% or more, operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs, or allowing another person to operate one's vehicle while that person is under the influence of drugs or has a BAC of .10% or higher, the penalties are as follows:

Operating a vehicle with a BAC of .10% or higher:

  • A fine not below $300 or above $500.
  • Incarceration for up to 30 days.
  • At least 6 hours per day of mandatory alcohol classes for 2 consecutive days at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC).
  • An automobile insurance surcharge of $1,000/year for 3 years.

Operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or narcotics (drug-related DWI): In addition to the above penalties, the driver will forfeit their license for 7 months to 1 year.

Operating a vehicle with a BAC of .10% or higher but below .15%: In addition to the penalties imposed for a .10% or higher BAC, the convicted party will have their license suspended until they install an ignition interlock device in a vehicle they often operate or drive.

Operating a vehicle with a BAC of .15% or higher: In addition to the penalties assessed for a person convicted with a BAC of .10% or more, an individual whose BAC results come back .15% or higher will have their license suspended for 4 to 6 months after installing an ignition interlock device in their motor vehicle. The device must remain installed for 9 to 15 months following the restoration of the person's license.

Penalties for Underage Drivers

It is unlawful for someone below 21 years old to purchase, possess, or consume alcohol in New Jersey. Therefore, any underage person who consumes an alcoholic beverage and operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .01% or more but less than .08% will be subject to the provisions of N.J.S.A § 39:4-50.14:

  • License suspension or prohibition from obtaining a driver's license for at least 30 days but not more than 90 days, starting from when the person becomes eligible to get a license or from the conviction date, whichever comes later.
  • Community service for at least 15 days but not over 30 days.
  • Completion of an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center's program and fee requirements, or participation in an approved alcohol education and highway safety program.

What is the Penalty for a Second DUI in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, a second DWI/DUI violation within 10 years of the first one results in the following legal consequences:

  • A fine of $500 to $1,000.
  • Community service for 30 days.
  • Incarceration for at least 48 consecutive hours but not over 90 days.
  • Driver's license suspension for at least 1 year but not over 2 years.
  • Use of an ignition interlock for 2 to 4 years following the restoration of the suspended license.
  • An automobile insurance surcharge of $3,000 (1,000 each year for 3 years).
  • Completing the screening, evaluation, referral, program, and fee requirements of the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC).

However, note that New Jersey has a 10-year step-down statute for DWI offenders found guilty of a second or subsequent violation. According to N.J.S.A 39:4-50 (a)(3), if a second or subsequent offense occurs more than 10 years after a previous one, the court shall treat the second or subsequent conviction as the previous one when sentencing the offender. This means that if it is a person's second offense and it happens after more than 10 years have passed since the first offense, the individual will be convicted as if it is their first DWI offense.

What Happens After a Third DUI in New Jersey?

Upon a third or subsequent DWI/DUI conviction within 10 years of a prior one, an individual will incur the following penalties in New Jersey:

  • A $1,000 fine.
  • Imprisonment for at least 180 days. (The court may reduce this term for each day the offender attends a drug or alcohol inpatient rehabilitation course approved by the IDRC. However, the reduction will not be less than 90 days.
  • An automobile insurance surcharge of $1,500/year for 3 years.
  • Driver's license suspension for 8 years.
  • Use of an ignition interlock for 2 to 4 years after the license suspension period is over and the driver's license has been restored.
  • Completion of the screening, evaluation, referral, program, and fee requirements of the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC).

Additional penalties

The court can also impose other fees and surcharges on a defendant convicted of a first, second, third, or subsequent DWI offense. For instance, the individual can be ordered to pay a $125 surcharge. $50 of that amount will be deposited into the General Fund, $50 to the municipality where the conviction was entered, and $25 to the municipal or county law enforcement agency that issued the summons. (If the summons was issued by a state law enforcement agency, the fee is payable to the General Fund.)

Other fees include a $100 surcharge to the Drunk Driving Enforcement Fund (DDEF), $75 for the Safe and Secure Community Program, $50 to the Violent Crimes Compensation Fund, $100 for the Intoxicated Driver Program, and $100 as the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) restoration fee.

Furthermore, the court may revoke a convict's vehicle registration certification and plates for some time, and an individual will be fined an additional $200 (first offense) and $250 or 10-day community service (second offense) if they were found with an open container in the passenger compartment.

Lastly, suppose the offender is a parent or guardian and had a minor (17 years old or under) as a passenger at the time of the incident. In that case, the individual is guilty of a disorderly persons offense per N.J.S.A 39:4-50.15. As such, the person will have their license suspended for not more than 6 months and be required to perform community service for not more than 5 days, in addition to other penalties imposed by the court.

How Long Does a DUI Stay on Your Record in New Jersey?

A DWI or DUI in New Jersey is regarded as a serious traffic offense that endangers public safety. However, it is not considered a criminal offense in the state and will not leave a defendant with a criminal record.

Nevertheless, the DWI/DUI will appear on the person's driving record (known as an "abstract"). It is not possible to remove this charge, and it will remain on a person's driving record for the remainder of their life.

DUI Expungement in New Jersey

In New Jersey, a DUI is not a criminal offense but a traffic offense. Therefore, when arrested by the police or convicted by the court, the offense will not be listed on a person's New Jersey criminal record. For this reason, there are no DWI expungement laws in New Jersey.

How Likely is Jail Time After a First DUI in New Jersey?

Very likely in New Jersey. First-time offenders, though receiving a lesser sentence than repeat offenders, will still be subject to a jail sentence for their drunk or drugged driving offense. This incarceration sentence is imposed at the court's discretion, but it will not be above 30 days.

However, if the offender is an underage person (an individual under 21 years of age), there is no jail time for a first DUI, though other penalties will be imposed.

What is the Average Cost of DUI in New Jersey?

Getting arrested or convicted for a DWI/DUI in New Jersey has its financial implications. An offender will be liable to fees, costs, and surcharges imposed by the courts and the Motor Vehicle Commission, as well as other collateral costs. These costs include:

  • Attorney fees (differs by case)
  • Towing and storage costs (roughly $100 to $200)
  • Insurance surcharges ($3,000 for first and second DWIs, and $4,500 for third or subsequent offense)
  • Court-ordered fines and surcharges, including:
    • $250 to $1,000 for the DWI offense
    • $100 surcharge to the Drunk Driving Enforcement Fund (DDEF)
    • $75 for the Safe and Secure Community Program
    • $50 to the Violent Crimes Compensation Fund
    • $100 for the Intoxicated Driver Program and $100 to the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) for license restoration.
    • $100 to the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Fund (AERF)
  • Cost of license restoration ($100)
  • Costs for an Intoxicated Driver Program ($100)
  • Costs arising from job losses (indeterminable)
  • Cost of an ignition interlock device ($50 to $200 for installation; $50 to $100 monthly rental fee)

On average, a first-offense DWI/DUI will cost a driver over $5,000, and subsequent offenses will cost more.

How Much is Bail for a DUI in New Jersey?

According to the Superior Court's bail procedures brochure, bail is money or other security (e.g., a bail bond) offered to the court to obtain an adult defendant's release from jail.

In criminal cases, the amount payable as bail depends on the charge and the arrestee's criminal background. However, as New Jersey does not view a DWI/DUI as a criminal offense but rather a traffic violation, a person arrested on DWI/DUI charges will usually not be required to post bail or spend the night in a police station. The exception may be in cases involving other criminal factors such as death, property damage, or possession of illicit drugs.

How to Get My License Back After a DUI in New Jersey?

Any individual who forfeited their New Jersey driver's license because of a drunk driving offense can apply to the state's Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) to reinstate their license, provided their suspension period is over. Typically, a person's license can get suspended even if it is their first DWI/DUI offense.

More information on the suspension and restoration process can be found on the MVC's website. But generally, the interested party must visit an MVC office and pay a restoration fee of $100. If the license has not expired, this fee can be paid online or via mail (including a check or money order and the bottom portion of the notice of suspension) to:

New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission
P.O. Box 165
Trenton, NJ 08666-0165

Note that to be eligible to restore a driver's license, the applicant must have satisfied all fee requirements related to the DWI/DUI charge and completed all mandatory alcohol and drug courses at the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC)

How Does a DUI Affect Your Life in New Jersey?

A DWI/DUI impacts a person's life, regardless of the US state where the conviction occurred. In some states, the DWI/DUI will become a criminal record, and the offender will be subject to the disadvantages endured by criminal defendants (e.g., difficulty in finding a job and lengthy mandatory incarceration periods).

A DWI/DUI conviction in New Jersey will not necessarily ruin a person's life in such a manner as it is regarded as a traffic offense. However, it can still affect other areas of someone's life, including their career, auto insurance rates, and ease of immigration or travel.

Can You Get Fired for a DUI in New Jersey?

It depends. Unlike some states, a DWI/DUI in New Jersey will not appear on a person's criminal record because it is not a criminal offense. This means that the conviction will not reflect in criminal background checks run by employers unless an employer specifically looks for it. As such, a person's job may not be compromised as a result of the offense. However, if the impairment relates to a part of someone's job, that person could be fired. Professionals that could be affected include teachers, pilots, commercial truck drivers, and medical practitioners.

Furthermore, there are no laws that bar DWI/DUI offenders from being employed by government agencies. However, it may be necessary to disclose this information while applying for such jobs to avoid problems later on.

How Do I Find DUI Checkpoints in New Jersey?

A DWI/DUI checkpoint in New Jersey is a tool that law enforcement officers and agencies use to deter impaired driving. These checkpoints, otherwise known as sobriety checkpoints, are constitutional (legal) in the state and are usually set up on roads and highways at specified hours of the day to check drivers for alcohol or drug intoxication.

However, law enforcement agencies must meet specific criteria for a checkpoint to be legal in New Jersey, including:

  • The checkpoint must have the backing of a supervisory authority.
  • There must be sufficient reason to establish the checkpoint, including why the preferred site for such checks was selected.
  • Officers at the checkpoint must wear their uniforms.
  • The community must be informed of the checkpoint.
  • The checkpoint must be identifiable, e.g., with signs and proper lighting.
  • The police should be neutral and courteous at checkpoints.

Given that DWI/DUI checkpoints have to be publicized to be legal in New Jersey, an individual can easily find a DWI/DUI checkpoint by checking press releases and other media coverages. Even if one does not check the news, these checkpoints will be identifiable from a distance when on the road.

Which is Worse, DUI vs. DWI?

Neither one is worse in New Jersey. A DWI and DUI describe the same traffic offense—which is that someone drove a vehicle while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol or allowed another similarly impaired person to drive their vehicle. No matter the legal term (DWI or DUI) used, a person will incur the penalties that the state imposes on drug or alcohol-impaired drivers.