It is illegal to drive in Florida while under the influence of alcohol. This is true in every state, and every state has passed laws making it a "per se" DUI to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit. That means that if a chemical test shows a 0.08 percent BAC, the driver is presumed to be intoxicated. Anyone who drives in Florida should understand the state's driving under the influence (DUI) laws including the legal blood alcohol limit in this state.
Legal Blood Alcohol Limit in Florida
Drunk driving is impaired driving, and those who drive under the influence of alcohol put themselves, their passengers and members of the public at risk. In Florida, the laws about drunk driving and drugged driving are found in the state's Motor Vehicles Code, starting at Section 316.19. The statutes make it illegal for anyone to be in control of a motor vehicle if any of these statements is true:
- The driver is under the influence of alcoholic beverages; any chemical substance set forth in the statutes; or any substance controlled under Chapter 893 when affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired.
- The driver has a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood.
- The driver has a breath alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.
That means that a person can be arrested and charged with a Florida DUI if there is evidence that they are under the influence of alcohol or if a chemical blood or breath test establishes that their blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 percent or above. This is sometimes called the legal limit in Florida.
Lower Legal Limits for Some Drivers
Note that a lower legal limit applies to commercial drivers, and a very low limit applies to drivers who are under the age of 21 because these drivers are too young to drink legally in Florida. The state has a zero tolerance statute making it illegal for young drivers to operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.02 percent or above. However, these drivers generally lose their driving privileges, rather than getting criminal penalties for violation of this law.
Per Se DUIs in Florida
The law that sets the legal BAC limit at 0.08 percent in Florida is known as the per se DUI law. The term per se is from Latin and means by itself or of itself. This is appropriate, since having a BAC of 0.08 percent or above in Florida is, by itself, sufficient proof that a person's driving is impaired. Section 316.1934(2)(c), makes this blood or breath alcohol concentration prima facie evidence of impairment. That means that no other evidence of impairment is required to arrest or convict the driver.
Contrast this with a regular DUI. The prosecutor must offer evidence that convinces a jury that the driver's ability to operate the motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol. Proof can involve a police officer's testimony about how the person was driving; how they spoke and behaved after they were stopped; and how they performed on roadside sobriety tests. The jury can convict the driver of a DUI only if the evidence convinces them beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was, in fact, driving while impaired by alcohol.
Chemical Testing in Florida
The state of Florida uses three types of chemical tests to determine the BAC level of a driver: blood test, urine test and breath test. Experts agree that blood testing is the most accurate, but it presents more of an inconvenience to a driver, since they must be transported to a hospital or clinic for the blood test. A urine test is reputed to be the least accurate. A breath test, or breathalyzer, can be taken at a police station that has a breathalyzer machine.
Blood or urine testing cannot be imposed on a Florida driver unless the police officers obtain a search warrant. However, a driver who has been stopped for a Florida DUI can request an independent blood or urine test.
Implied Consent to Testing
The Florida legislature enacted implied consent laws to make it easier for law enforcement to determine the BAC of a driver stopped for a potential DUI. These laws are found starting at Section 316.1932 of the Florida Motor Vehicles Code.
Implied consent laws provide that any person who accepts the privilege extended by the laws of Florida of operating a motor vehicle within the state is, by doing so, "deemed to have given his or her consent to submit to an approved chemical test or physical test." The tests a driver consents to specifically include a breathalyzer, a urine test and a blood test. This consent only applies if the driver is lawfully arrested for driving while under the influence of alcoholic beverages.
If a properly administered chemical test shows that the person had a BAC of 0.08 percent or above, there is a legal presumption of impairment. But the driver can rebut the presumption by showing evidence that the test was not reliable; the operator was not qualified to take the test; or the standards for intoxication are incorrect.
Consumption for 0.08 Percent BAC
Many people want to know exactly how many drinks they can consume before they hit or go over the legal limit of 0.08 percent BAC. There is no hard and fast rule about this, as people's bodies are different and other factors come into play, like whether the person was fatigued or stressed before drinking; the amount and type of food the person ate; and/or the effect of any medications they took, as well as the timing of the consumption of alcohol. That makes generalizations about how many drinks a driver can consume and still stay within the legal limits unreliable.
However, the internet is full of general tables that show the amount of alcohol necessary to hit a 0.08 percent BAC. The general rule seems to be that it takes between three to four drinks in an hour for a person to reach a 0.08 percent BAC, depending on the weight of the person drinking, as well as their food consumption and fatigue levels. One drink is considered to consist of 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, 12 ounces of 5 percent-alcohol beer, or 5 ounces of 12 percent-alcohol wine.
Fines and Penalties for DUI in Florida
The fines and penalties a person can incur in Florida for a DUI conviction depend in large part on the circumstances of the offense and the person's driving record. For a first offense, a person convicted of driving with a 0.08 percent BAC will have to pay a fine of between $500 and $1,000. If there are aggravating circumstances, the fine goes up. For example, a DUI will bring a higher fine if a passenger in the car is a minor or if the driver's BAC was 0.15 or higher. For a first conviction, imprisonment cannot exceed a period of six months.
In addition to fines and imprisonment, the court may order someone convicted of a DUI in Florida to install an ignition interlock device for at least six months on all vehicles they own or use regularly.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.