Know Penalties for Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence

​​Q: I’ve heard that I can be charged with DUI even if I am sitting in my driveway listening to the radio with the keys in the ignition, whether or not the car is running.
A: It is true that, under the old Ohio traffic law, you could be arrested for DUI (“Driving Under the Influence”). The current law (effective Jan. 1, 2004) refers to DUI as OVI (“Operating a Vehicle under the Influence”). Under current law, you cannot be arrested for OVI unless you cause or have caused your vehicle to move while you were intoxicated. If you came out of your house and hadn’t driven the vehicle, but were just listening to the radio, you would not be guilty of OVI. Rather, you would be guilty of “physical control,” a charge that has different, much less severe, penalties than an OVI charge.

Q: Should I take a breath test if I'm being charged with "physical control:?
A: You should always take a breath test if you are being charged with "physical control." Even if you test over the limit, the police can't suspend your license. If you refuse to take the breath test, however, your license will be suspended for at least one year.

Q: What can happen to me if I’m convicted of an OVI?
A: It depends on whether this is your first, second, or third offense (or more) within a six-year period. If it is your first offense, you will lose your license for a minimum of 180 days, and you will have to spend at least three days in jail or in a 72-hour Driver Intervention Program (DIP). Some first offenders are also required to go to jail in addition to the intervention program. Also, you can be fined up to $1,​075. There may be other penalties as well. The penalties become much greater for second and third offenses. If you get a fourth OVI within six years or a sixth within 20 years, it becomes a felony and your case will be heard in a common pleas court rather than in a municipal court.

Q: If I plead guilty or am found guilty of an “OVI”under current law, can I get occupational driving privileges?
A: Yes. You actually can get more than occupational driving privileges. Under current law the term occupational driving privileges is replaced with limited driving privileges. Limited driving privileges under the new law may be given for employment, educational (to and from school), medical, alcohol treatment, and other court-ordered purposes.

Q: What if I can’t afford auto insurance?
A: If you can’t afford auto insurance, then you can’t drive. Ohio law says that, in order to drive a vehicle in Ohio, you must have liability insurance. If you receive a traffic ticket, you must show proof of insurance to either the police officer or the court. If you don’t show proof of insurance, your license will be suspended by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV).

Q: What does it mean to have your license suspended, cancelled, forfeited, and revoked?
A: All of these terms were used under the old law. Under current law, only the terms “suspended” and “cancelled” are used. Your license may be suspended, or taken away, for a short time or for the rest of your life, depending upon the nature of the offense and the “class” of the suspension. A license also may be cancelled if you fail to comply with the law (if, for example, you do not pay traffic tickets). Unlike a suspension, your license can be cancelled by the court without warning. The cancellation lasts only until you comply (pay your traffic tickets).

Q: How do I know what type of suspension goes with each kind of traffic offense?
A: Under current law, there are two main types of suspensions:  court suspensions and BMV suspensions. Numbers are used to identify court suspensions, and letters are used to identify BMV suspensions. Each number or letter represents a different length of suspension. For example, a BMV “Class F” suspension lasts only until you have met certain conditions (e.g., you can show proof of insurance), whereas a “Class A” suspension (e.g., for refusing, in three separate incidents, to take a chemical test to determine if you were driving while intoxicated) will last three years. A “Class 7” court suspension may last no more than one year, whereas if the court imposes a “Class 1” suspension (such as aggravated vehicular homicide committed while under the influence), you will lose driving privileges for the rest of your life. If you have an issue or question concerning a suspension, it may be wise to contact an attorney.

Q: Do I really need an attorney if I get a DUI?
A: It is a good idea to at least speak with an attorney who is familiar with DUI law. The law has become so technical that only someone who is very experienced can give you the best advice.


This "Law You Can Use" consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by attorney Kenneth A. Bossin, a frequent lecturer on traffic and DUI law throughout Ohio.​​​

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.



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