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What constitutes driving under the influence in West Virginia?

By applying for a driver's license, passing a driving test and accepting the terms that comes with that privilege, every West Virginian is agreeing to avoid operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

But do drivers always understand the full weight of the state's law when it comes to violations? What does "driving under the influence" of alcohol really mean?

According to state law, a driver is operating a vehicle if the person has a blood alcohol concentration 0.08 percent by weight. This means that any amount of alcohol in a person's bloodstream over that limit automatically means the driver is impaired. In reality, though, West Virginia State Police and other police agencies routinely see drivers behaving in ways that are consistent with intoxication but who have BAC levels below the state limit.

Are these drivers guilty of drunk driving? Whether or not a driver with a BAC below 0.08 percent can be convicted of drunk driving depends on several factors. The most important is whether a driver has been in a car accident following the consumption of alcohol. In these instances, especially if a drunk driving accident produces injuries or deaths, a driver will almost certainly face drunk driving charges and possibly other criminal charges as well as personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits from victims.

When convicted of drunk driving, people can face penalties. Mere intoxication can lead to misdemeanor charges and jail time; the length is determined by specific circumstances. If an intoxicated driver injures or kills someone in an accident, a variety of charges can be filed, depending on its severity. Fines are probable, but imprisonment can range from a few days in jail to 10 years in prison, depending on whether there were injuries or deaths and the driver's personal history.

Source: West Virginia Legislature, "West Virginia Code, §17C-5-2," Accessed 29 March 2015.

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