Driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs, alcohol or a combination of both is illegal in the state of Kentucky, as it is in all fifty states. DUI is known by a few other terms in other states, such as driving while intoxicated (DWI) or operating under the influence (OUI)
Penalties for any DUI are severe, particularly in the event the offense becomes a felony due to circumstances around the drunk driving incident. It is critical for drivers to understand what is at stake when they get behind the wheel after a few drinks. Not only do they face expensive fines and jail time, but they can also negatively impact their future for decades to come.
Definition of Kentucky DUI
Kentucky Revised Statutes Section 189A.010 states that anyone driving or in "actual physical control" of a vehicle on a public highway while impaired is breaking the law. The circumstances for a DUI conviction to occur are:
- Driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 percent or higher.
- Driver showed obvious impairment by alcohol or drugs.
- Chemical test detects drugs in a driver's blood.
- Impairment occurs by a combination of drugs and alcohol.
- Driver is under 21 with a BAC level of 0.02 percent or higher.
- Driver holds a commercial license and has a BAC level of 0.04 percent or greater.
Law enforcement can also arrest a parked driver on DUI charges. According to Larry Forman Law, four elements define a driver who has "actual physical control" of a motor vehicle:
- Wakefulness – are they awake or asleep at the time of the traffic stop?
- A running engine.
- Location of the car and how it got to where it is.
- Intent of the driver.
First-Offense DUI and Penalties
NOLO states that an impaired driver's first DUI offense is a misdemeanor. It carries the following penalties:
- Two to 30 days in jail. The offender can serve community service hours instead of jail time, by court order.
- Fine of $200 to $500, plus court fee.
- Attendance and completion of a 90-day substance abuse education and treatment program.
- Driver's license revocation for 30 to 120 days.
For license reinstatement, the driver must attend and complete a substance abuse education or treatment program. After reinstatement occurs, the first-time offender must drive with an ignition interlock device (IID) installed in their vehicle for six months.
Second-Offense DUI and Penalties
According to Cooley Iuliano Robey Law Office, a driver faces a second-offense DUI if the second DUI occurs within 10 years of the first. This is Kentucky's look-back period.
A second-time DUI offender faces penalties, including:
- $350 to $500 fine, plus court fees.
- Up to 180 days in jail.
- License revocation for 12 to 18 months. A driver can regain their license by completing one year of a substance abuse education and treatment program.
- License plate revocation.
- The installation of an IID on the driver's vehicle for a one year period.
Third-Offense DUI and Penalties
A third-offense DUI occurs within 10 years of the first two DUIs and carries these penalties:
- Up to one year in jail.
- $5,00 to $1,000 fine, plus court fees.
- License revocation for 24 to 36 months.
- Attendance of a substance abuse program for a minimum of a year.
- License plate revocation.
- Installation of an IID on the driver's vehicle for 30 months.
Community service, vehicle immobilization and probation are also possible penalties with any DUI conviction. A driver serving time for a misdemeanor offense in Kentucky can do so in blocks of 48 hours. This means that the offender can still work while serving time. However, if the conviction has aggravating factors, such as injury, death or a high BAC, the driver must serve a full 60 days in jail before beginning a work-release program.
Aggravated DUI and Penalties
Most Kentucky DUIs are usually misdemeanors, but the circumstances of the event can result in a more severe charge. Any one of these aggravating circumstances turns a misdemeanor DUI into an aggravated DUI or felony:
- Law enforcement caught the offender driving at least 30 miles an hour above the legal speed limit.
- The driver goes in the wrong direction on a limited-access highway.
- A passenger under 12 is in the vehicle at the time of the incident.
- The driver has a BAC level of 0.15 percent or greater.
Aggravated DUI carries these penalties:
- Minimum four days in jail.
- Fine $200 to $50.
- Two to 30 days of community service.
- License revocation for 30 to 120 days.
- IID installation for six months.
Offenders can apply for a hardship license with the requirements that they attend a treatment program and have an IID installed. A person who holds a hardship license for up to a year and incurs no subsequent offenses can receive reduced sentencing.
Kiddie DUI and Penalties
Kentucky law states that a driver under 21 who has a BAC of 0.02 percent or higher faces "Kiddie DUI." Penalties for this offense include a license suspension of up to 120 days, $100 to $500 fine or 20 hours of community service in place of the fine. Drivers must attend a 90-day substance abuse treatment or education program.
Those with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher face:
- $200 to $500 fine.
- Up to 30 days in jail or performing community service.
- Mandatory attendance in a 90-day substance abuse treatment or education program.
- License suspension of up to 120 days.
A minor driver with an aggravated felony conviction must serve a mandatory four days in jail, even if it is a first offense. Young drivers convicted of DUI face years of ramifications, both legally and personally – the charge can cause them to lose scholarship and job opportunities.
CDL DUI and Penalties
A person who drives commercial vehicles and has a commercial drivers license (CDL) violates Kentucky DUI law if they have a BAC of 0.04 percent or higher, or if law enforcement suspects impairment during a traffic stop. In either instance, the officer will place the driver out of service for 24 hours. Those who lose their license not only risk the usual fines and penalties, they may also lose the ability to work, according to Larry Forman Law.
In addition to the fines and jail time for a standard DUI, a CDL driver faces license revocation for one year for a first offense and lifetime revocation for multiple violations. Drivers transporting hazardous materials will see a license suspension period of three years.
To reinstate their CDL, the driver must pay a $50 reinstatement fee and pass the applicable tests to get a new CDL permit. After two weeks, they must pass additional tests for permanent CDL eligibility. A CDL driver who violates the state's implied consent law will also lose their license for one year.
Implied Consent Law in Kentucky
According to Kentucky Revised Statutes Section 189A.103, a driver automatically consents to take a chemical test of their breath, blood or urine during a traffic stop. Chemical tests allow law enforcement to determine what type and how much of a substance a driver has in their blood.
When an officer asks a driver for a chemical test sample, and the driver refuses, they violate the implied consent law. They face 30 to 120 days of license suspension for a first refusal, up to 18 months for a second refusal and up to three years for a third refusal. This penalty is in addition to the penalties a driver receives for a DUI offense.
Kentucky's Ignition Interlock Program
Kentucky offers offenders a way to trim their license suspension sentence through its interlock ignition program, known as KIIP. A driver with a suspended license can apply for an ignition interlock license, which allows them to drive with an IID installed in their car. To qualify, they must be free of violations for 90 or 120 consecutive days; this sentence depends on the circumstances of the charge.
Certain violations can end an offender's participation in the program. They are:
- Failing a breath test unless there is visual proof that the driver was not in the car at the time of the stop.
- Failing a breath retest due to a BAC of 0.02 percent or higher.
- Skipping appointments with an IID provider to maintain or fix a device.
- Tampering with an IID and rendering it ineffective.
- Hiding or otherwise altering their identity when using an IID.
Drugged Driving DUI
Kentucky doesn't differentiate between substances when it comes to impairment charges, according to the Dickman Law Office. While the influence of alcohol is relatively easy to measure, the type and amount of drugs in a driver's system are more difficult to ascertain. Law enforcement will give a driver a blood test if they suspect drug impairment. However, they mostly rely on their observational skills to detect drug use and will perform a field sobriety test on the impaired driver.
While marijuana is legal for recreational and medicinal use in several states, it is still illegal in Kentucky. Possession or consumption of marijuana is unlawful, and a driver with any amount of the drug in their system faces a DUI charge while operating a vehicle. Its penalties are equivalent to those of an alcohol-related offense.
Kentucky Open Container Law and Penalties
According to NOLO, Kentucky defines an open container as an unsealed, partially empty or otherwise open alcoholic beverage located in the main area of a vehicle while on a public highway. The law applies to both passengers and drivers. A driver cannot transport open beverages that are 0.5 percent or greater alcohol by volume. This applies to beer, wine and distilled spirits. A vehicle operator can transport alcohol in a trunk, a locked compartment or the last upright seat in a vehicle out of the driver's reach. Open container violations carry fines between $35 to $100.
There are some exemptions to this law. Passengers traveling in a vehicle for hire, such as a bus, cab or limousine, can possess an open container, as can those in the living area of an RV or motor home. Partially empty bottles of wine from a restaurant are also exempt, as long the establishment corks the bottle and gives the customer a dated receipt.
- Kentucky Legislature: Kentucky Statutes Section 189A.010 Operating Motor Vehicle With Alcohol Concentration of or above 0.08
- Larry Forman Law: What Constitutes “Operation” for DUI Purposes in Kentucky?
- NOLO: Kentucky First-Offense DUI
- Cooley Iuliano Robey, PLLC: DUI Second Offense Penalties
- NOLO: Kentucky Third-Offense DUI
- NOLO: Kentucky Aggravated DUI
- CaseText: Kentucky Statutes Section 189A.103 Consent to Tests for Alcohol Concentration or Substance Which May Impair Driving Ability
- Kentucky: DUI Laws in Kentucky
- Dickman Law Office: Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana in KY
- NOLO: Kentucky’s Open Container Law
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.