The acronyms DUI, DWI, OMVI and OVI all refer to the same thing: operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The most commonly used terms are DUI, an acronym for Driving Under the Influence, and DWI, an acronym for Driving While Impaired. However, Ohio law no longer uses the DUI and DWI acronyms because, in 1982, Ohio enacted a law that refers to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs as “OMVI,” an acronym for Operating a Motor Vehicle Impaired.
Because a more recent change in Ohio law removed the requirement that a vehicle must be “motorized,” the current acronym that refers to driving under the influence is “OVI” (Operating a Vehicle Impaired). It is now a crime in Ohio to operate almost any vehicle while impaired. This includes not only motorized “vehicles,” but also, bicycles, horse-drawn carriages and several other types of “vehicles.”
Q: How much alcohol can I consume before driving without risking an OVI conviction?
A: If you are over 21 years of age and your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) and breath alcohol content (BrAC) is .08 or greater, you are considered to be “operating a vehicle impaired.” The .08 figure refers to the concentration of alcohol in your breath or in your blood.
The fact that the legal limit for breath and whole blood are the same is not a coincidence. The breath machine equates the amount of alcohol in your breath to the probable amount of alcohol in your blood. Although state legislatures have generally accepted this principle, many toxicologists and other scientists do not necessarily accept it as scientifically sound.
Q: Is the .08 limit the only one I have to worry about?
A: No. There are also “legal limits” for the concentration of alcohol in a person’s blood serum or plasma and urine. For a urine sample, you will be over the “legal limit” if the alcohol concentration in your urine sample is .11 or greater. While Ohio still considers this a valid way to determine alcohol content, many states have done away with urine testing because handling and testing procedures have produced errors.
If a blood serum or plasma sample is taken, the legal limit is .096. A test of blood, whether whole blood, serum or plasma, is the most accurate, but such tests must be completed according to Department of Health rules to be admissible in a court proceeding. Also, improper blood testing procedures still may yield inaccurate results.
Q: What happens if I test well over the legal limit for alcohol?
A: Ohio currently has enhanced minimum penalties for so called “high tier” test results (alcohol levels that are considerably higher than the legal limits). The high tier test results are .17 for breath and blood, .204 for blood serum or plasma, and .238 for urine. The enhanced penalties for “high tier” offenders double the minimum jail time requirement.
Q: If I’m under age 21, are the legal limits different?
A: Yes. If you are under 21, the legal limit is much lower: .02 for breath or blood, .03 for blood serum or plasma, and .028 for urine. This means that even the slightest amount of consumption of alcohol can place you over the legal limit.
Q: Can I be convicted of OVI if I refuse to take a test of my breath, blood or urine?
A: Yes. The law presumes that, if you operate a vehicle and are found to be at or over the “legal limit,” you are guilty of OVI. However, Ohio law allows you to argue against this presumption of guilt, within limits, in court. If it is proven that the alcohol level in your system is at or over the legal limit, you can be convicted of OVI even if you show no other signs of being under the influence.
If you refuse to allow law enforcement to measure the amount of alcohol in your breath, blood or urine, you still may be convicted of OVI based on evidence of impairment such as poor driving performance, alcohol odor, slurred speech, red and glassy eyes, and staggering and poor performance on field sobriety tests. Further, Ohio law has made it a criminal offense to refuse to submit to testing once you have been arrested for OVI.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by attorney Jon J. Saia, a partner in the Columbus law firm, Saia & Piatt, Inc., and updated by attorney Jessica G. D'Varga of the same firm.