It is a violation of Kentucky law to drive while impaired. Driving under the influence, also known as DUI, carries fines, jail time, license suspension and a community service requirement, among other penalties. A first-offense DUI is generally a misdemeanor, but it can become a felony due to aggravating circumstances, such as injury, death or an extremely high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at the time of the arrest.
Definition of DUI in Kentucky
Known as driving while intoxicated or DWI in other states, driving under the influence is a criminal offense in Kentucky. According to KRS Section 189A.010, it is illegal to drive or otherwise be in "actual physical control" of a vehicle:
- With a (BAC) level of 0.08 percent or greater.
- While impaired by alcohol.
- While under the influence of a controlled substance.
- If a chemical test detects drugs in a driver's blood.
- While impaired by a combination of drugs and alcohol.
- With a BAC of 0.02 percent or greater if the driver is under 21.
- With a BAC of 0.04 percent or higher if the driver has a commercial driver's license (CDL)
A vehicle does not have to be in motion for law enforcement to make an arrest. According to Larry Forman Law, four factors define actual physical control:
- If the driver is awake or asleep.
- If the vehicle's motor is running.
- The vehicle's location and how it arrived at that location.
- The driver's intent.
First Offense DUI Penalties
According to NOLO, an impaired driver faces a first-offense DUI if they have no previous DUI convictions. A first offense carries these penalties:
- From 48 hours to 30 days incarceration. The court may allow the offender to complete this penalty in community service work hours instead of jail time.
- $200 to $500 fine.
- Completion of a 90-day substance abuse education or treatment program.
- Revocation of an offender's license for 30 to 120 days.
- After license reinstatement, the court will require the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) on the driver's vehicle for six months.
A driver who enrolls in a treatment program and has an IID installed can apply for a hardship license. This temporary, restricted license allows the offender to drive to work, school or treatment while their case is open and they continue to satisfy the court-ordered penalties. Penalties are more severe for subsequent offenses.
Aggravated First-Offense DUI
A first offense is a misdemeanor, but it can become a felony or an aggravated DUI if any of the following circumstances are in play at the time of the traffic stop:
- Driver's speed is at least 30 miles per hour over the speed limit.
- Driver takes vehicle in the wrong direction on a limited-access highway.
- Serious injury and death occur.
- Driver has a passenger under 12 years old.
- Driver's BAC is 0.15 percent or higher.
A driver charged with aggravated first-time DUI faces a mandatory minimum jail sentence of four days, $200 to $500 fine, 48 hours to 30 days of community service work hours, 30 to 120 days of license revocation and IID installation for six months. An offender can apply for, and receive, a hardship license, but they must enroll in a substance abuse treatment program and have an IID installed in their vehicle to be eligible. A driver who holds a hardship license for a total of 12 months with no violations may also see a reduction in penalties.
Underage First-Offense DUI
Under Kentucky DUI laws, a driver under 21 years of age with a BAC of 0.02 percent or higher can face "Kiddie DUI" charges, which is another term for Kentucky's zero tolerance policy. A convicted driver faces license suspension of 30 to 120 days, fine of $100 to $500 (or 20 hours of community service instead of a fine), and must attend a 90-day substance abuse treatment or education program. Minor drivers with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher face the same penalties adult offenders do:
- Fine of $200 to $500.
- Two to 30 days in jail.
- Attendance in a 90-day substance abuse treatment or education program.
- License suspension of 30 to 120 days.
- 48 hours to 30 days of community service.
Drivers convicted of aggravated felony DUI must serve four days of mandatory imprisonment. A kiddie DUI charge does not count as a prior conviction to a future charge, so a driver convicted as a teen won't face a second charge as an adult. In that case, the court views the second charge as a first offense.
Commercial Vehicles and DUI Penalties
A person who holds a commercial driver's license faces arrest if their BAC is 0.04 percent or higher while operating a commercial motor vehicle or if law enforcement believes there is obvious impairment due to the influence of alcohol or drugs. If either occurs, the arresting officer will give the driver an out-of-service notice for 24 hours.
In addition to the penalties for a standard first offense, a CDL driver faces license revocation for one year. A driver carrying hazardous materials will see their license revoked for three years. Kentucky requires a driver to pay a $50 reinstatement fee and pass written and vision tests to receive a CDL permit. After fourteen days, the driver must pass additional tests to become eligible for a new CDL.
Implied Consent in Kentucky
According to Baldani Law, Kentucky's implied consent law states that a person operating a vehicle on the state's roads automatically consents to a chemical test of their breath, blood or urine in the event of a drunk driving traffic stop. These tests determine the type and amount of the substance impairing the driver.
If an officer requests a test, and the driver refuses it, they face a license suspension of 30 to 120 days. This penalty is in addition to what they receive if they are found guilty of first-offense DUI.
Kentucky Ignition Interlock Program
The state offers drivers a way to shorten the license suspension period by applying for an ignition interlock license under the Kentucky Ignition Interlock Program (KIIP). To qualify, an offender must not have any violations for a consecutive 90 or 120 days; the number of days depends on the specifics of the offense.
If a driver commits certain violations, their participation in KIIP will cease. Violations can be in the form of failure to take a breath test (unless there is visual proof that the driver was not in the vehicle at that time) and inability to pass a retest with a BAC of 0.02 percent or less. Failure to appear at an IID provider for maintenance, repair, inspection or replacement of the device, or to cause an IID to be ineffective through tampering can also end participation in KIIP, as can attempting to hide or alter one's identity from the IID camera while using the device.
- Kentucky Legislature: 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
- NOLO: Kentucky Aggravated DUI
- Larry Forman Law: What Are the Consequences of Operating a Motor Vehicle Under the Influence (DUI) While Under the Age of 21?
- The Commonwealth of Kentucky: DUI Laws in Kentucky
- Baldani Law: 50 Kentucky DUI Facts & Tips to Avoid a DUI
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.