In 2012, the last year for which data is available, there were 402 drunk-driving fatalities in North Carolina. That’s about a third of the total car crash fatalities. There were about 8,500 alcohol-related car crash injuries. All in all, drunk-driving fatalities cost the taxpayers of North Carolina about $2 billion in 2012. With a price tag that high in terms of life and cash, it makes sense that North Carolina has some of the strictest laws in the country regarding driving while impaired.


A police officer can pull you over either because she has some reason to believe you might be impaired or because you’re passing through a random checkpoint. At a random checkpoint, the officer will generally talk to you to determine if you may be impaired. If she thinks that you or if you were pulled over specifically on suspicion of driving while impaired (DWI), you’ll be asked to take a DWI Breath Tests: Know Your Rights. What happens next depends on state law. So, what happens to your license in North Carolina?

License Suspension

In North Carolina, the legal limit for a driver over the age of 21 is a blood alcohol content of 0.08%. For commercial drivers, the limit is 0.04%. For drivers under the age of 21, the limit is 0.0% – any blood alcohol is grounds for a DWI conviction. For drivers who have a prior DWI, the limit is 0.04%. If the test shows that you’re over the legal limit or if you refuse to take the test, the arresting officer will take your driver’s license. That immediate suspension will last for 30 days. You may be able to regain limited driving privileges after 10 days, until your court date.

For how long will you lose your license?

When you’re charged with a DWI, you’ll have to go to court to plead your case. Just how long you lose your driving privileges depends on how many times you’ve been convicted for DWI. For your first DWI offense in North Carolina, you’ll lose your license for a year. For your second offense, you’re going to lose your license for 4 years. Both of those suspensions are added to the mandatory 30-day suspension that kicks in when you’re arrested, so you’ll actually lose your license for 13 months for the first offense and 4 years and 1 month for the second. On your third offense, you lose your license for good. Once you’ve been convicted three times for DWI in North Carolina, you won’t ever be able to drive in the state again.

However, an experienced attorney may be able to help you get your license back if you need it, for example, to support your dependents. Those issues depend heavily on your particular circumstances and the circumstances surrounding your DWI.

Refusing a Breath Test

If you refused the breath test, your license will be suspended for a year even if you’re found not guilty. If you refused the breath test and were found guilty, your license will be suspended for an additional year on top of the standard sentence for your DWI. Keep in mind that if you refuse to take a breath test when you get pulled over, the officer will arrest you and compel you to take a blood test at the precinct. That test may be used in the case against you. In addition, the state does not actually need a blood or breath test in order to convict you. Evidence from witnesses and the testimony of officers may be enough to convict you regardless. In other words, it’s never worthwhile to refuse a breath test. Your license will still be suspended for at least a year and the judge is not going to look favorably on your refusal.

License Reinstatement

After the period of suspension is over, you’ll have to pay to reinstate your license. The fee to reinstate a license suspended because of a DWI is $100; the fee for general reinstatement is $50. You’ll also have to pay a $5 processing fee. You won’t be able to get your license reinstated until you’ve completed every part of your sentence, including any jail time, community service, substance abuse program, and payment of fines and court costs.

If you’re caught driving under the influence while your license is already suspended for DWI, you’re going to lose your car. North Carolina has the right to seize and sell it under those circumstances.

In some cases, you may be required to install an ignition interlock systems on your vehicle in order to get your driving privileges reinstated. If, on your first offense, your BAC is over 0.15%, you’ll be required to install an ignition interlock. If you’re convicted of an offense within 7 years of a previous offense, you’ll also have to get an ignition interlock. Ignition interlocks come with monthly lease and maintenance fees, and you’ll have to pay a fee every time you fail the interlock test because a technician has to reset the device.

Driving History

License suspensions and the reasons for them will be added to your permanent North Carolina driving record. That means your car insurance rates are going to go up. Prospective employers can also view your permanent record, meaning that a DWI may affect your employment prospects. You may also run into trouble if you apply for a position that requires security clearance. The background check will show your conviction and license suspension, which may be grounds for denial of your security clearance.

Licenses in Other States

Your driving history doesn’t just affect your driving privileges and record in North Carolina. With a DWI conviction, you may not be able to get a license in any other state, either. States share driving record information through the “Driver’s License Compact,” a national registry of drivers and their driving history. Any state that revokes driving privileges after a DWI conviction will revoke your driving privileges after a conviction in North Carolina. Conversely, a DWI conviction in another state means your license is suspended in North Carolina, too. In addition, you won’t be able to renew your license anywhere while it is suspended for a DWI in North Carolina. Generally, states won’t renew your license if it has an outstanding hold or suspension.

What should I do if I’ve been pulled over on suspicion of DWI?

If you’ve been pulled over and had your license suspended, don’t drive. If you break your suspension, the judge is going to be much harder on you in court. Secondly, contact an experienced DWI attorney. You’re going to have to go to court and face an attorney who has plenty of experience with DWI convictions. You need expert help to defend yourself and ensure that your rights are respected.