Kentucky DUI Laws & Penalties

Drinking and driving is never a wise choice. Operating a vehicle while your driving abilities are impaired puts under risk your life and health as well as the lives and health of other people. On top of that, you may get caught and punished for your irresponsibility.

The state of Kentucky has a DUI punishment policy that is similar to that of the other US states, which means a threat of jail, fines, and driving license suspension. Every DUI offense will result with at least some of these penalties, so it is smart to learn what constitutes a DUI offense in order to avoid it. If it is too late for that, learn what are the penalties that come as a consequence.

What is a Kentucky DUI Offense?

You are guilty for DUI in Kentucky if you drive under the influence of:

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • A combination of both alcohol and drugs

Kentucky DUI laws adopt the “per se” doctrine, which means that you will be charged and possibly convicted as long as the amount of alcohol (BAC – blood alcohol concentration) or traces of drugs meet certain limits.


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You don’t have to be really drunk to get convicted. It is enough to meet or exceed the following limits:

  • 0.02% for drivers under 21 years of age
  • 0.04% for commercial drivers
  • 0.08% for all other drivers

Your BAC level is determined by a chemical test conducted by the police officer. That could be a breathalyzer test, a blood or a urine test.

 

The police officer must not force you to do the test, but the law does not allow you to refuse it either. You must submit to it upon the request by the officer. If you don’t, you’ll get punished for test refusal.

Kentucky has implied consent laws, which means that every driver who operates a vehicle in the state is considered to have consented with a test by the mere fact that he or she operates a vehicle. That deprives you of the possibility to refuse the test. You cannot escape it.

The state of Kentucky also has open container laws. They prohibit holding an open container with alcohol in the car. The driver may get charged even if he or she has not drunk at all. If a passenger holds such a container, he is guilty.

You’ll be charged with DUI under the open container laws as long as you or any of the passengers hold a bottle, glass or another type of container filled with an alcoholic beverage including:

  • Beer and similar fermented beverage of at least 0.5% or more of alcohol
  • Wine with at least 0.5% of alcohol
  • Any distilled spirits

The container must be open, with a broken seal, or has part of its contents removed.
Exceptions of the rule are:

  • Passengers of certain types of vehicles, such as limousines and motorhomes
  • Trunks and other locker compartments
  • Partially consumed bottles of wine taken from the restaurant where the driver or the passengers have just eaten

Penalties for Kentucky DUI Offense

Kentucky courts will punish you for your DUI offense mostly depending on how many DUI offenses you have committed previously. Other factors include your age and the BAC level, but nothing is more important than your number of previous DUIs.

The state of Kentucky has a lookback period of 10 years. That means that only the offenses from the last 10 years count. After the expiry of the 10-year period, you start from zero again.

Also, certain aggravating circumstances lead to aggravated penalties. These include:

  • Driving with children of the age of 12 or younger
  • Serious injury or death due to the DUI
  • Speeding due to the DUI, usually 30MPH over the speed limit
  • Refusing a chemical test

Having all that in mind, the DUI penalties in Kentucky are as follows:

First Kentucky DUI Offense Penalties

The first Kentucky DUI offense is a misdemeanor. It leads to:

  • 2-30 days in jail
  • $200-$500 in fines
  • Possible community service of up to 48 hours
  • Driving license suspension of 120 days, with the possibility of a hardship license after 30 days of the suspension
  • Attending a substance abuse program that lasts for 90 days

Second Kentucky DUI Offense Penalties

The second Kentucky DUI offense within 10 years after the first one is punishable by:

  • 7 days to 6 months in jail, with an additional 60 days in the case of aggravating circumstances
  • $350-$500 in fines
  • Possible community service of 10 days to 6 months
  • Driving license suspension of 1 year, with the possibility of a hardship license after 120 days of the suspension
  • Revocation of the license plate or driving with an ignition interlock device for 6 months after the expiration of the driving license suspension
  • Attending a substance abuse program that lasts for 1 year

Third Kentucky DUI Offense Penalties

The third Kentucky DUI is also a misdemeanor. It results with the following penalties:

  • 30 days to 12 months in jail, with an additional 14 days in the case of aggravating circumstances
  • $500-$1500 in fines
  • Possible community service of 10 days to 12 months
  • Driving license suspension of 3 years, with the possibility of a hardship license after 24 months of the suspension
  • Revocation of the license plate or driving with an ignition interlock device for 12 months after the expiration of the driving license suspension
  • Attending a substance abuse program that lasts for 1 year

Fourth Kentucky DUI Offense Penalties

The fourth Kentucky DUI offense is  Class D felony. The penalties are as follows:

  • At least 120 days in jail, without probation, with an additional 240 days in the case of aggravating circumstances
  • At least $1500 in fines, with no upper limit
  • Possible community service of 10 days to 12 months
  • Driving license suspension of 5 years
  • Revocation of the license plate or driving with an ignition interlock device for 30 months after the expiration of the driving license suspension
  • Attending a substance abuse program that lasts for 1 year

DUI Penalties for Test Refusal in Kentucky

The implied consent laws do not allow drivers to refuse a chemical test upon a request by a police officer. They are obliged to submit to it. Moreover, refusing the test is considered an aggravating circumstance and leads to harsher penalties.

If you don’t make the test, you will be arrested and have a hearing in court. Even though the prosecutor won’t have evidence that you were really intoxicated with alcohol, they will argue that you refused to hide it. Then, the implied consent rules will render the judge to convict you of DUI.

Aside from the penalties for aggravating circumstances, you will be subject of an enhanced driving license suspension:

  • 120 days for the first offense, with a possibility for a hardship license after 30 days of the suspension
  • 18 months for the second offense, with a possibility for a hardship license after 12 months of the suspension
  • 3 years for the third offense, with a possibility for a hardship license after 2 years of the suspension
  • 5 years for the fourth offense

DUI Penalties for Underage Drivers in Kentucky

DUI offenses by drivers under the age of 21 are common all around the US, yet they are being punished differently due to the driver’s age. A young driver with a BAC of more than 0.02%, but less than 0.08% won’t go to jail, but is subject to the following:

  • Fines of $100 to $500 or 20 hours of community service work
  • Driving license suspension of 6 months, with a possibility to get a hardship license after 30 days
  •  Attending a substance abuse program that lasts for 90 days

If the driver is under 18 years of age, then their driving license will be suspended according to the rules for adults or until they turn 18, whichever period is longer.

If the BAC of the young driver is 0.08% or more, though, these rules do not apply to them. In that case, they will be punished as if they were adults.

DUI Penalties for Commercial Drivers in Kentucky

The state-wide DUI rules for commercial drivers apply to the state of Kentucky as well. In addition to all the other applicable penalties, they include:

  • Driving license suspension of 1 year for the first offense, or 3 years if the drivers drive hazardous materials
  • Permanent revocation of the commercial driving license after the second offense

The same penalties apply whether the driver operates under the influence a commercial or a private vehicle. He or she will lose the commercial driving license due to any kind of DUI.

Reinstating Your Kentucky Driving License

Reinstatement of your Kentucky driving license takes a few simple steps. You’ve done the hard part by serving your sentence and suspension, paying the fines and attending the DUI programs.

Determining the impairment is tricky. According to the law, the police officer may request you to submit to a field sobriety test to check out whether you can drive safely or not. However, the same police officer may not be able to testify against you due to lack of the necessary certification.

Now you have to go to the local DMV office and submit evidence that you comply with the set of requirements for your particular case. In most cases, you will be required to prove that you have served your penalties and paid the reinstatement fees. After that, you’ll have your Kentucky driving license back and be able to drive again.

Additional Kentucky resources you may need: