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Ohio Law F.A.Q. Part I - Buzzed Driving Is Drunk Driving

In an effort to curb drunk driving and to prevent impaired drivers from ever getting behind the wheel, it's not uncommon to hear the admonition "remember: buzzed driving is drunk driving." While an effective marketing ploy and pithy phrase, does the Ohio Revised Code agree?

In short, it depends. 

Ask most people what the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is and they will quickly respond with the correct answer (for drivers at least 21 years old) of ".08." But that doesn't mean you cannot be arrested, and later convicted, for an OVI (Operating a Vehicle while Intoxicated-known in other states as "DUI"), if your BAC is below .08.

Ohio Revised Code 4511.19(A)(1)(a) prohibits a person from operating any vehicle within the state of Ohio if, at the time of operating the vehicle, "the person is under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them." It's important to note that this section does not prohibit operating a vehicle only if the driver has a BAC of .08 or greater. In fact, Ohio courts have been clear that the results of chemical tests are only a secondary concern.

In short, you can be convicted of an OVI offense even if you blow under .08. R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(a) regulates behavior not test results.

When a jury or judge is considering whether a driver was "under the influence of alcohol," the question is not "how much alcohol it takes to affect an ordinary person," or "how much alcohol was in the driver's body at the time s/he was driving?"

Rather the jury or judge will consider 1) did the driver consume alcohol and 2) did the alcohol adversely affect and appreciably impair the driver's actions, reactions, or mental process? In other words, it's the effect of the alcohol, not the quantity of alcohol that determines the outcome of the case.

What does this all mean for the popular phrase "buzzed driving is drunk driving"? If "buzzed" refers to drinking enough to affect a person's nervous system, brain, or muscles to appreciably-meaning "noticeably," not to confused with "substantially"-impair that person's ability to operate a vehicle, then "buzzed driving" IS "drunk driving." But until that point, consuming alcohol and then driving is not a violation of 4511.19(A)(1)(a). 

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