Charged With a DWI: When Can You Drive Again?


Being charged with a DWI carries with it a number of repercussions, even if you end up beating the charge in court. From the financial costs of hiring a lawyer, to concerns about appearing in court, to just plain embarrassment, a DWI charge can weigh on the mind.

But what about the more practical consideration of when can you drive again? In North Carolina, just being charged with a DWI immediately revokes your license. The North Carolina law authorizing the immediate revocation is N.C.G.S. 20-16.5. That law gives the State permission to revoke your license if:

  1. The officer has reasonable grounds to believe you committed a DWI or similar offense;
  2. You are charged with a DWI or similar offense;
  3. The officer followed the procedures for informing you of your rights before attempting to test your breath, and the instrument that tested your breath was in good working order; and,
  4. You refused to submit to a test of your breath or you blew over the legal limit.

But what about being innocent until proven guilty? The State’s authority to take your license just for being charged with a DWI seems to defy this notion. However, the constitutionality of this statute has been repeatedly challenged and upheld.

Assuming your license was property revoked under N.C.G.S. 20-16.5, when do you get your license back? The lawyerly answer is, “It depends.” But, for most people, the answer is 30 days. This includes people who blew a .08 or higher, blew a .04 or higher while driving a commercial vehicle, and people under 21 who had any alcohol in their body while driving. If you fall into one of these three categories and your license was taken when charged with DWI, you can get your license back after 30 days.

So, you can get your license back after 30 days, but when can you drive again? These are two different questions. You can drive again after just ten days with what’s called a limited driving privilege. A limited driving privilege is not a license; it’s a piece of paper that allows you to drive for limited purposes. It lasts from Day 11 to Day 30 of your thirty-day revocation. It permits you to drive to work, school, church, substance abuse treatment, and to maintain your household.

How do you get a limited driving privilege? Most people, with the assistance of an attorney, request the court to issue one. To qualify, you must have:

  1. A valid license when you were charged with DWI or your license had not been expired for more than one year;
  2. Surrendered your license;
  3. No pending DWIs;
  4. Waited ten days;
  5. A substance abuse assessment; and,
  6. Proof of insurance.

It bears stating the obvious: a limited driving privilege is not the same as a driver’s license. It is limited. You may only drive for certain purposes and during certain hours. You must maintain insurance and have the privilege in your possession. And, finally, you cannot have any alcohol or controlled substances (unless prescribed) in your body. None. Zero. Zip.

So, for the vast majority of people charged with DWI, your license is revoked for thirty days but you can drive after ten days with a limited driving privilege.

As with all situations, there are exceptions. If you already had a pending DWI, didn’t have a valid license when you were charged, or a number of other scenarios, your options become more limited and you should consult an attorney.