Do You Have to be “Drunk” to be Arrested for a DUI in Georgia?

Posted by Richard Lawson | Oct 18, 2016 | 0 Comments

In Georgia, as in most states, the legal standard of impairment is far lower than what is considered by most to be “drunk driving.”

A History lesson:

Georgia DUI Laws have evolved at a far faster rate than human evolution.  Initially, the legal limit in Georgia was 0.15.  It then was changed to 0.12, -.10, and now it is 0.08.  Interestingly, how alcohol affects the human body has not changed in the last 70 years.  

At 0.08, a person is not “drunk.”  In fact, most people will not even feel impaired.  As a result, many people misjudge the amount they can drink before they are considered legally impaired.  Misjudgment of how much a person can drink before a person is .08 is the number one reason people are charged with a DUI in Georgia

The effect of alcohol of a person can vary; however, the general rule of thumb is:

  • 0.02 – 0.03: Slight effect and euphoria.
  • 0.04 – 0.06: Relaxation, lowered inhibitions, decreased ability to reason, and decreased motor skills.
  • 0.07 – 0.09: Slight impairment, a slight affect on balance, a slight effect on vision, slightly impaired motor skills, a slight effect on judgment and reasoning.
  • 0.10 – 0.12: Actual impairment and impairment of motor skills.
  • 0.13 – 0.15: High impairment and slurred speech.
  • 0.16 – 0.19: Drunk-like appearance 
  • 0.20 – 0.25: Extreme drunkenness
  • 0.26 and above: Otis Campbell from the Andy Griffith show (for younger readers Otis was the town drunk who regularly checked himself into the county jail)

The description of a driver who is between 0.07 – 0.09 is the exact reason why people with low blood alcohol levels are often unaware they are impaired.  Their judgment is more impaired than their motor skills.  When I am called they often tell me that they were not “drunk,” and they are right.  However, the legal standard is impaired driving, not drunk driving. 

A person can be charged with a breath test below 0.08 in several situations:

The legal limit for drivers under the age of 21 is only 0.02.  I have argued this is entirely unfair because the accused is often not impaired by alcohol, yet they are still charged with driving under the influence. A more fair way of handling an underage driver would be to charge him or her with minor in possession of alcohol while driving. 

Also, Georgia technically does not have a legal limit. If a person less safe to drive due to the consumption of alcohol they can be charged with a DUI less safe, even in situations where their breath test reading is below 0.08.

In fact, Georgia DUI Law provides certain presumptions (for drivers over the age of 21) insofar as DUI is concerned:

  • Below 0.05 a person is presumed to not be impaired.  The prosecution can still try to rebut that presumption during a trial.
  • Between 0.05 – 0.08 there is no presumption regarding impairment.  The state would have to prove their case based on the manner of driving and the accused driver's ability to operate a motor vehicle. 
  • 0.08 and above there is a presumption of impairment that the defense can rebut.   

A Final Thought:

It does not take much to be charged with a DUI.  Be careful and have a designated driver, or use a ride-sharing service.  For more Georgia DUI Information, contact our office.  

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


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