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Driver impairment in Massachusetts: The basics you need to know

Drivers in Massachusetts must be prepared to make split-second decisions when they are driving. Operating a motor vehicle after drinking or taking any substance that might impair your ability to drive can have disastrous consequences. There are strict penalties for operating under the influence of alcohol or other substances.

Many people don't realize the scope of the limitations these laws set for drivers. It goes beyond making sure you don't have too many drinks before you drive. While alcohol is the most common OUI/DUI concern, there are other important considerations.

Alcohol and driving

The legal limit for most drivers in Massachusetts is .08 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Anything at or above this limit can lead to criminal charges. For drivers who are under 21 years old, the limit is much lower: .02 percent. On top of those basic limits, there is also a threshold for an enhanced penalty. Any driver with a BAC of .20 or higher can face aggravated OUI charges, which can carry more severe consequences.

The penalties for drunk driving increase with each subsequent conviction. On the first offense, you are facing a one-year license suspension that might be reduced if you take an alcohol education course. The suspension for a second offense increases to two years, and it is eight years for a third offense. Ignition interlock devices are required for repeat offenders. It is also possible that your vehicle will be confiscated.

Drugs and driving

Impairment can also come from drugs, including prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. Illegal substances are likely to have an impairing effect, too. It is more difficult to determine impairment in these cases, but it is possible with certain tools and, importantly, the subjective observations of law enforcement officers.

Determining impairment

When a police officer sees a person they think is impaired, they can initiate a traffic stop to determine if the driver is able to drive safely. Field sobriety tests and breath tests are two methods of determining impairment. While the field sobriety test can determine impairment from alcohol or drugs, breath tests can only determine impairment from alcohol, and a blood test usually follows a problematic breath test.

Massachusetts uses the implied consent law, which means that you agree to take appropriate tests to determine if you are intoxicated. You do have the right to refuse this testing. Stating you won't take the test has penalties, though, including a driver's license suspension. You should carefully think about your options when you are pulled over by the police and particularly in the aftermath of an OUI/DUI arrest.

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