New Jersey makes it a crime to drive a motor vehicle while drunk or while using drugs that impair driving faculties. In some states the offense is known as driving under the influence (DUI), but in the state of New Jersey it is called driving while intoxicated, or DWI. New Jersey's DUI/DWI laws contain provisions common to many states, but also describe several unique violations. Anyone driving a motor vehicle on New Jersey roads needs a clear understanding of the DWI laws, as well as the sanctions and criminal penalties for violations.
|First DWI||Second DWI||Third DWI|
up to 30 days
2 days to 90 days
$250 to $500
$500 to $1,000
Intoxicated Driver Resource Center
12 to 48 hours
4 to 6 months if BAC over 0.15 percent or using drugs; IID 3 to 15 months
2 year revocation; IID 2 to 4 years
8 year revocation; IID 2 to 4 years
State Prohibitions on Driving Under the Influence
In New Jersey, the drunk/drugged driving statute is called Driving While Intoxicated and found in the New Jersey Revised Statutes Title 39, Section 39:4-50. It is a violation of this law – a DWI – if a person operates or attempts to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotics, hallucinogenics or habit-producing drugs. It is also a DWI for a driver to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. There is a different legal BAC limit in New Jersey for someone with a commercial driver's license (CDL), which is set at a lower 0.04 percent.
New Jersey law also makes an individual liable if they permit someone to drive their vehicle if that person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or has a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher. This law allows an arrest even if the car owner has not imbibed or taken drugs themselves.
"Per Se" DWI Charges
The DWI violations for having a blood alcohol concentration level above the legal limit are based on chemical testing. There is no way a law enforcement officer can tell a person's BAC by simply observing them. The most common chemical test to determine BAC is the familiar breathalyzer; the driver blows into the device and it determines the BAC from that breath sample. It is also possible to do this with a blood sample, although this is more invasive.
Like many states, New Jersey has enacted an implied consent law, which is based on the premise that it is not a basic right to drive on state highways, but rather a privilege. The law conditions that privilege on the driver's consent to take a chemical test if they are stopped on suspicion of a DWI. Drivers do not agree to this directly, but, under the statute, their consent is implied when they drive in New Jersey.
Penalties for Test Refusal
Some people will still refuse to consent to take a chemical test, and such refusal carries administrative sanctions. These include the loss of the right to drive and imposition of fines, with the severity of the penalty depending on the driver's prior record.
A first offender's driver's license is revoked for a year and they can be fined up to $500. A second offender gets a three-year revocation plus a fine of up to $1,000. A third refusal results in a license revocation for a decade and a $1,000 fine. These sanctions are separate from any criminal penalties and are not affected by the outcome of any DUI criminal action.
First-Time DUI Offenders
New Jersey prosecutes DWIs in criminal court, and the potential criminal penalties include jail time, fines, mandatory use of an IID, and assignment to a substance abuse program at the state Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC). A driver's prior record determines the severity of the punishment, with a first offender getting the least severe sanctions, and repeat offenders punished more severely.
A driver given a first offense DUI charge is likely to avoid jail time, but that is not a given. Under the statute, the court may give them a jail sentence of up to 30 days. The fine imposed depends on the circumstances of the charge. If the driver gets a DWI for having a BAC of between 0.08 and 0.09 percent, the fine is between $250 and $400.
However, if the driver's BAC is 0.10 percent or higher, or if the DWI is for driving under the influence of drugs, the fine ranges between $300 and $500. In addition to this fine, the driver also has to pay a $280 IDRC fee, $100 to the drunk driving fund, $100 to the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Fund (AERF), $75 to the neighborhood services fund, plus a $1,500 DWI surcharge fee.
Installation of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID)
Prior statutes imposed criminal license revocations for first offenders, but recent statutory amendments eliminated these license suspensions for drivers with a BAC level below 0.15 percent. Instead, the driver must install an IID in every car they use and leave it in place for between three and 15 months. An IID is an ignition interlock device, a type of breathalyzer that is attached to a vehicle to prevent it from starting until the driver blows into it and establishes that they are not intoxicated. The driver must pay for the installation and for maintenance of the IID.
A driver convicted of a first DWI will be required to participate in a drug and alcohol program through the state Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC). They will be required to do between 12 and 48 hours of classes.
Second-Time DUI Conviction
A New Jersey driver convicted of a second offense for DWI will get some jail time. The minimum a court can impose is 48 hour in jail and the maximum is 90 days. A second offender will be required to pay a criminal fine of up to $1,000. In addition to this fine, the driver will have to pay a $280 IDRC fee, $100 to the drunk driving fund, $100 to the AERF, $75 to the neighborhood services fund, plus a $1,500 DWI surcharge fee.
The driver will be assigned to complete the entire IDRC program course in substance abuse and may be required to do up to 30 days of community service. The IID time for a second offender is between one and three years.
Third-Time DUI Offenders
A third DWI conviction can bring up to 180 days in jail, 90 days of community service, the complete IDRC program, and a fine of $1,000. In addition, the driver will have to pay a $280 IDRC fee, $100 to the drunk driving fund, $100 to the AERF, $75 to the neighborhood services fund, plus a $1,500 DWI surcharge fee. They can have their driving privileges revoked for eight years, and after reinstatement, they must drive with an IID between two and four years. That means that they will have to install and maintain the device on every vehicle they own or use for that period.
DWI in School Zones
At one time, New Jersey increased the penalties for a driver when the DWI occurred in a school zone. That included a DWI violation that occurs within 1,000 feet of a school or when a DWI driver passes through a school crossing.
However, many drivers argued that they had no idea they were in a school zone. This was ruled not to be a valid defense, but the results did seem inequitable. Therefore, recent amendments to the law eradicated this part of the statute.
- DUI Driving Laws: New Jersey
- northjersey.com: NJ to Impose New Penalties
- DUIProcess: New Jersey DUI Laws and Penalties
- Inspiration Feed: 11 Questions About New Jersey Interlock Device Laws for 2020
- Justia: 2019 New Jersey Revised Statutes Section 39:4-50 Driving While Intoxicated
- Criminal Lawyer: New Jersey Eradicated DWI in a School Zone
- Intoxalock: New Jersey
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.