Charged with Driving While Ability Impaired in Colorado? Learn what you’re facing.

Many Colorado drivers are aware of the state’s legal limit for purposes of drunk driving laws, and that you can be arrested for Driving Under the Influence if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08 percent or higher. If you were pulled over, you may think you can breathe a sigh of relief when a chemical test reveals a lower BAC.

Unfortunately, many drivers operate under this same misconception. The truth is that Colorado criminalizes impaired driving even if you are below the state’s legal limit. If you are facing charges of Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI) in Colorado, it is imperative that you understand the law and that you reach out to an attorney for professional assistance with your case. Some answers to common questions about Colorado DWAI and other drunk driving laws may also be helpful.

Driving While Ability Impaired Colorado

What is DWAI in Colorado?

Under Colorado Revised Statutes 42-4-1301 (1)(g), C.R.S., a driver commits the offense of driving while ability impaired if the consumption of alcohol or drugs have impaired their driving ability in the “slightest degree.” This means that a driver does not operate their vehicle as they ordinarily would have had they not consumed any drugs or alcohol.

Colorado’s DWAI law was designed to expose people who are not legally intoxicated, but whose ability to operate a motor vehicle is compromised, to criminal charges. Your BAC according to chemical tests is irrelevant, but police will be looking for other indications of impairment, such as:

  • Running a red light or failing to obey traffic signals;
  • Weaving or swerving within your own lane;
  • Other violations of traffic laws; or,
  • Suspicious conduct that is NOT a traffic violation, such as traveling at a speed that is well under the posted limit.

Why Does Colorado Have Two Standards for Drunk Driving?

Colorado’s DWAI law was designed to expose people who are not legally intoxicated, but whose ability to operate a motor vehicle is compromised, to criminal charges. The central issue is public safety, since a person who is impaired can still pose a threat to other motorists – regardless of whether or not that individual’s BAC exceeds .08 percent. The DWAI statute is intended to discourage drivers from driving while their physical and cognitive abilities are limited by the consumption of alcohol.

How Could Police Make an Arrest for DWAI?

 For violations of traffic laws or other suspicious conduct mentioned above, an officer may issue the arrest immediately after pulling you over. Your actions give police sufficient grounds to charge you with DWAI. However, you could also be charged with DWAI if you were pulled over for other reasons, such as a routine sobriety checkpoint.

Once they stop you, officers may observe evidence of impairment in your appearance or demeanor. For instance, it may be enough to arrest you for DWAI if you have bloodshot eyes, you smell of alcohol, slur your speech, or demonstrate other characteristics associated with drinking too much. Police could also charge you if you fail to successfully perform field sobriety tests (FSTs).

What are the Penalties for Driving While Ability Impaired in Colorado?

If this is your first offense, you can expect the following penalties per Colorado Statute 42-4-1307:

  • Between 2 and 180 days in jail
  • A fine ranging between $200 and $500
  • Community service requirement (24-48 hours)
  • Possible probation of up to two years with conditions
  • Eight points added to your driving record

Is There a BAC Limit That Applies to DWAI in Colorado?

DWAI doesn’t hinge solely on your BAC reading. Instead, the focus is on whether your driving has been impaired.

However, the law states that anyone with a BAC over .05% will be presumed to be Driving While Ability Impaired. The prosecutor will then point to whatever caused the police officer to pull you over — speeding, making a U-Turn, not having your headlights on — as proof that your driving was indeed impaired to the slightest degree.

What are the Penalties for a Second DWAI Offense in Colorado?

First, understand how offenses are counted. Any DUI or DWAI in any state will count as a prior offense. For example, if you move to Colorado from Idaho and have one DUI offense from Idaho, then getting picked up for DWAI in Colorado will count as a second offense. You can expect:

  • A minimum of 10 days in jail, and up to 1 year in jail
  • A fine ranging between $600 and $1,500
  • Community service requirement (48-120 hours)
  • Two years of probation
  • Eight points added to your driving record

What are the Penalties for a Third DWAI Offense in Colorado?

If this is your third offense, you can expect even more serious penalties, including:

  • A minimum of 60 days in jail up to 1 year
  • A fine ranging from $600 to $1,500
  • Community service (48-120 hours)
  • At least two years of probation
  • Eight points added to your driving record

Are There Any Other Consequences of a DWAI?

You may be surprised to learn that there are additional, collateral consequences for being convicted of DWAI in Colorado, especially financial implications. You may be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on your car and any other vehicles you drive regularly. The IID technology works by preventing the engine from starting if it detects elevated amounts of alcohol in your system when you blow into it. The installation and maintenance fees for the IID can be costly. Plus:

  • Your auto insurance premiums could skyrocket, since you will likely be considered a high-risk driver;
  • You may need to file a SR-22 form, along with filing fees, when your driving privileges are reinstated after a DWAI-related suspension;
  • There may be implications for your professional license or other credentials you hold through the State of Colorado; and,
  • Under Colorado drunk driving laws, a DWAI is a qualifying conviction for purposes of subsequent arrests and punishments.

Can a Colorado DWAI become a Felony?

Yes. If this is your fourth conviction, then DWAI is classified as a class 4 felony. Prior convictions will include any of the following from any state (not just Colorado):

Felony Driving While Ability Impaired convictions carry the stiffest penalties, such as:

  • Two to six years in state prison
  • Mandatory parole for three years
  • A fine ranging between $2,000 and $500,000

Speak with a Colorado DWAI Attorney

Being arrested for DWAI is not the same thing as a conviction. You might have defenses available. To better understand how to fight this offense, you should meet with an experienced DWAI attorney as soon as possible. At the office of Miller Leonard, PC, we have handled numerous DUI and DWAI cases and are prepared to go to work for you. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.


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