Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) is the standard drunk driving offense in the state of Michigan. Like a DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while impaired), it carries severe penalties, including jail time, license suspension or revocation, fines, probation and community service. While usually a misdemeanor, circumstances such as death and serious injury can cause a driver's first OWI offense to become a felony.
Impairment in Michigan Defined
Michigan Vehicle Code Section 257.625/mileg.aspx?page=GetObject&objectname=mcl-257-625) defines OWI as driving while impaired by drugs, alcohol or a combination of the two. When law enforcement stops a driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or greater, that driver faces a standard OWI charge. This offense can be either a low-level (0.08 percent to 0.17 percent) or a high-level (0.17 percent or higher) OWI.
Drivers under 21 who have a BAC of 0.02 percent or higher also face OWI charges. They can transport alcohol only when accompanied by an adult, but cannot otherwise buy or drink it. If law enforcement stops an underage driver in possession of alcohol without an adult present, an OWI conviction can occur even if the vehicle is not in motion.
Any driver who shows obvious impairment or intoxication can face a charge of Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI). First-time offenders may receive a fine of at least $300; a maximum 93 days of incarceration or 360 community service hours; a license suspension of up to three months (or up six months for controlled substances); and four points on their driving record. If a driver has Schedule 1 drugs or cocaine in their system, they face a charge of Operating with the Presence of Drugs (OWPD).
First Offense OWI Penalties
According to the Michigan Secretary of State, during a standard, low-level OWI, a driver who has a BAC of 0.08 percent to 0.16 percent may receive these penalties:
- Fine of $100 to $500.
- A 30-day license suspension, with an additional 150 days of restrictions.
- Six points added to their driving record.
- Up to 93 days incarceration or 360 hours of community service.
- Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) in their vehicle.
- Immobilization of their vehicle.
The penalties for drivers with a BAC of 0.17 percent or higher (high-level OWI) are slightly more severe:
- Fine between $200 and $700.
- Up to 180 days of incarceration or 360 hours of community service.
- Up to a year of license suspension followed by 150 days of restrictions.
- Six points added to their driving record.
- Possible license plate confiscation.
- Possible immobilization.
OWI With Injury or Death
A first offense OWI, OWVI or OWPD automatically becomes a felony when it causes severe injury or death. A driver in this position faces:
- Revocation and denial of driver's license for at least one year.
- Confiscation of the driver's license plates.
- Vehicle immobilization for up to six months.
- Possible forfeiture of the driver's vehicle.
- Six points added to the driver's record.
In the event of injury, sentencing can be a maximum of five years in prison, a $1,000 to $5,000 fine or both. If death occurs, the penalty is 15 years in prison, a $2,500 to $10,000 fine or both. If an emergency responder dies due to a driver's intoxication, the offense carries penalties of up to 20 years in prison, a $2,500 to $10,000, fine or both.
Zero Tolerance Penalties in Michigan
Underage drivers face penalties that are slightly different from those of adults. A minor who buys, drinks or possesses alcohol can lose their license, even if the incident wasn't related to driving.
Minors will receive a $100 fine for their first offense and a $200 fine and a 30-day driver's license suspension, followed by 60 days of restrictions, for their second offense. For a third offense, the fine is $500 and 60-day license suspension followed by 305 days of license restrictions. In all of these instances, the court may require alcohol screening and community service hours.
A minor driver who transports alcohol without an adult present faces a maximum fine of $100. The court may also require possible alcohol screening and community service hours. The offender will see two points added to their driving record and their motor vehicle impounded for a maximum of 30 days. Administrative penalties are:
- First offense: No sanctions.
- Second offense: A 30-day suspension followed by 60 days of restrictions.
- Third offense: A 60-day suspension followed by 305 days of restrictions.
OWI Penalties for CDL Drivers
The Michigan Secretary of State notes that an OWI offender with a commercial driver's license (CDL) can immediately lose their ability to work if suspected of impairment. During the traffic stop, an officer will place the CDL driver out-of-service for a full 24 hours if they won't submit to a preliminary breath test. Criminal charges are also imminent if a driver consumes alcohol within four hours of getting behind the wheel or has a BAC of 0.015 percent or higher. All drivers, including those with commercial licenses, can also face other types of charges:
- Unlawful bodily alcohol level (UBAL): OWI with a BAC of 0.10 percent or greater.
- Operating under the influence of liquor (OUIL).
- Operating under the influence of drugs (OUID).
- OWI with a BAC between 0.07 percent and 0.10 percent.
- OWI with a BAC between 0.04 and 0.07 percent.
A CDL driver convicted of any of these charges will receive a one-year license suspension on their first offense and a 10-year suspension for second and third offenses. Drivers transporting hazardous materials may receive a three-year license suspension. All CDL drivers will suffer revocation or suspension of their license to operate a vehicle and will have six points added to their record.
Implied Consent Law and Penalties in Michigan
Michigan's Implied Consent law states that anyone who gets behind the wheel of a vehicle in the state automatically and immediately consents to chemical testing. If law enforcement suspects impairment in a driver during a traffic stop, they will ask that person to take a preliminary breath test. If the driver refuses or if their BAC level is at the legal limit or higher, the officer will confiscate and destroy their CDL before giving them a restricted license, which allows them to drive with restrictions for the duration of their case.
The penalties for violating Michigan's implied consent law are separate from, and in addition to, those of the OWI charge. If the driver requests a hearing to appeal the charge, the arresting officer will present a case for proof of the driver's impairment. If there is no hearing or if the driver is found guilty after a hearing, they will face a license suspension of one year with six points added to their record for the first chemical test refusal or a two-year suspension for one or more chemical test refusals in the last seven years.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.