A majority of people are aware that operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of .08% or more can lead to a DUI charge. However, many people may be unaware that drivers can be charged with a DUI even if their BAC is under the legal limit. This type of DUI is called a DUI Less Safe in Georgia. It is just as serious as a regular DUI and being convicted of this offense can have a significant impact on a person's life.
If you or a loved one has been charged with driving under the influence in Atlanta, please do not hesitate to contact Atlanta DUI Attorney Richard Lawson today.
What Is A DUI Less Safe?
The law in Georgia states that "[a] person shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any moving vehicle while . . . [u]nder the influence of alcohol to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive." O.C.G.A. §40-6-391(a)(1). The language in this section of the statute does not provide for a specific BAC level that a driver must have in order to be considered legally impaired. If a law enforcement officer suspects a driver is under the influence but the driver's BAC is under the legal limit, the officer will look for other signs of impairment in order to determine how intoxicated a driver is.
How Do Police Determine Impairment?
There are several things that may make a police officer think a driver is under the influence. A common initial indicator to law enforcement is when a driver is not following the rules of the road. If a driver is doing things like weaving, speeding, running red lights, failing to signal, or otherwise not obeying the traffic laws in Georgia, a law enforcement officer may conclude that the reason the person is driving erratically is because he or she has been drinking or doing drugs.
Field Sobriety Tests
After a police officer has pulled an individual over because he or she suspects the individual is under the influence, the officer will then look for other signs of intoxication. Physical indicators of intoxication may include slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or the odor of alcohol on the driver's breath.
If a law enforcement officer suspects a person is intoxicated, the officer may then ask the driver to step out of the vehicle and perform one or more field sobriety tests. After a driver does this, if he or she cannot stand up without leaning on something or cannot walk more than a few steps without wobbling, these are also indicators that the driver is to impaired to be driving.
There are a few different types of field sobriety tests that an officer may have a driver perform including:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a horizontal gaze nystagmus "is an involuntary jerking of the eyes that occurs as the eyes move to the side." If a person has been drinking alcohol, the nystagmus "is exaggerated and may occur at lesser angles depending on the degree of impairment." During this test, an officer will look for the presence of jerking movements in the driver's eyes.
- Walk And Turn Test: Another test that is commonly used is the walk and turn test. During this test the driver is asked to take nine heel to toe steps, then turn around and do the same thing again.
- One Leg Stand: This test requires an individual to stand on one foot for 30 seconds with their arms at their side.
As a note, there are many things besides being impaired that can make these tests difficult for an individual to pass or perform properly. For example, a nystagmus can occur naturally in some people, so the presence of a nystagmus does not always mean the person is drunk. Likewise, a person who is elderly or overweight may have difficulty performing the walk and turn test or the one leg stand. In addition, a field sobriety test was not administered correctly by the law enforcement officer could affect the results. Moreover, environmental conditions, such as bad lighting, hills, or rain, can also have an impact on the test result. An experienced Atlanta DUI Lawyer like Richard Lawson will look at the circumstances of a field test in order to make sure that the results are not skewed or unfair.
Can I Get A DUI Less Safe For Being On Drugs?
Yes, a DUI Less Safe applies to both drugs and alcohol. Under Georgia law, "[a] person shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any moving vehicle while . . . [u]nder the influence of any drug to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive." O.C.G.A. §40-6-391(a)(2). It is important to note that even if the drugs are legally prescribed by a doctor, a person can still be charged with a DUI if they are not safely operating their motor vehicle. A police officer who suspects a driver is under the influence of drugs may call in a Drug Recognition Expert who will go through a 12 step process to determine if it is not safe for the driver to behind the wheel.
What Is The Penalty For A DUI Less Safe?
In Georgia, a first DUI is usually a misdemeanor offense. The penalties that can be imposed for a DUI conviction can include a fine ranging from $300 to $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to a year. Other penalties may include community service, attending a DUI program, and having a clinical evaluation. O.C.G.A. §40-6-391(c)(1)(A)-(E). In addition to these criminal penalties, a DUI conviction leads to a driver losing his or her license for up to one year.
Contact A DUI Defense Attorney
If you have been arrested and charged with a DUI in Atlanta, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Richard Lawson. A DUI conviction can have a serious impact on your life, so you want a skilled and knowledgeable Atlanta DUI Attorney on your side. Richard Lawson has devoted his career to defending those charged with driving under the influence and has over two decades of experience practicing law in Georgia. Do not face the criminal justice system alone, contact the Law Offices of Richard Lawson today by calling (404) 816-4440 or contact them online.