While the federal government allows states to establish the legal limit for blood alcohol content in DUI cases, all 50 states recognize .08 as the legal limit. There is no state in the United States that observes a legal BAC limit above .08.
States with lower legal limits
Many European countries observe the legal limit below the U.S. standard of .08, and some U.S. states have followed suit. In Colorado, for example, while the legal limit for a DUI is .08 percent BAC, a reading of between .05 and .08 results in a Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI) charge.
It's important to remember that a BAC breath test, typically given at DUI stops, is not the sole determinant of a DUI arrest, and you can be arrested even if your BAC breath test comes in under the legal limit.
If you are under the age of 21, the .08 limit does not apply to you. In most states, a BAC concentration of .02 is grounds for a DUI because it is illegal to drink alcohol if under the age of 21 in the United States.
In countries with lower drinking ages, many times similar rules apply. While the legal limit may be .08 for people over the age of 21, a limit of .02 or .05 may be enforced on people between the ages of 18 and 21.
Reaching the legal limit
Health officials agree that it's difficult to determine the number of drinks that a person can consume before reaching the legal limit. Factors like weight, gender and even emotional state can affect the way that people process alcohol, and the best way to be sure is to always designate a driver if you are going to be drinking.
The National Highway and Safety Administration classifies an accident as "alcohol related" if the driver registers a .01 BAC, and even the smallest amount of alcohol can have an effect on your decision making and reaction time when you're operating a motor vehicle.
In many states, there are stricter laws for operators with increased responsibilities. In some cases, commercial drivers are considered over the legal limit even if their BAC is below .08. In New York, for example, the legal limit for a commercial driver is .04. The Federal Aviation Administration also mandates a legal limit of .04 for pilots.
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