Automobiles are the preferred mode of transportation in Arkansas. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, at least 78% of motorists in the state drove alone to work. Notably, 8.81% of workers commute via carpool.
While this mode of transportation brings convenience and time efficiency, the widespread use of cars also carries inherent risks. In 2022, 2,634 crashes involving intoxicated drivers were recorded by the Arkansas Department of Transportation. These accidents resulted in 251 serious injuries and 63 fatalities.
To prevent such incidents, the state joins federal agencies in the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign. Arkansas seeks to promote the message that drinking and driving do not mix. An increased presence of law enforcement personnel from local and state agencies also helps take drunk drivers off the road.
Another way that the state considers DWI a serious concern is through all-offender ignition interlock laws. Arkansas joins 33 other states with regulations requiring all arrests for driving while drunk to install an ignition interlock device.
Despite these efforts, some accidents can and do happen. As such, everyone must understand the DWI laws in Arkansas. Studying these can help victims of DWI offenders recover the compensation they deserve from liable parties. Alternatively, this article provides information on how liability is imposed on those facing claims for causing alcohol-related injuries. It also delivers an overview of the penalties present in a DWI charge.
General DWI Laws in Arkansas
Under Arkansas law, intoxicated individuals are those whose motor skills and reactions are significantly affected and thus present a substantial and clear danger of death or injury to themselves or others. Those caught operating motor vehicles or boats while under the influence face various penalties. Note that motor vehicles also include machines like tractors and ATVs.
There are two ways to prove that a driver is intoxicated. One is a field sobriety test. Individuals going through this process need to walk, turn, and stand on one leg. They may also undergo an assessment that checks for evidence of horizontal gaze nystagmus.
Another way to determine whether someone is under the influence is through chemical tests. Urine, breath, and saliva tests are done to determine the blood alcohol content of the suspected driver. Incidentally, a warrant is required for blood tests. If their BAC level is 0.08% or more, they are charged with DWI in Arkansas “per se,” or automatically.
The state also imposes implied consent rules on motorists involved in alcohol-related accidents. Drivers arrested for an act they carried out with a BAC level of 0.08% or higher are subject to chemical testing. If the person was involved in an accident, they must go through tests as well. An additional reason individuals need to be checked is if they are arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated and the police officer has reasonable cause to think that the driver is indeed under the influence.
Conducting chemical tests does not automatically mean those charged with DWI are guilty. Their attorney can challenge these results through a subpoena to either an Arkansas Department of Health official or the technician in charge of calibrating testing machines.
Aggravated DWI, as the name suggests, refers to more severe cases of DWI. According to Arkansas Court Records, those who drive under the influence with passengers who are minors commit aggravated DWI.
Other aggravated actions include operating a vehicle with a BAC level of 0.15%, receiving subsequent DWI charges, and causing serious injury or death in the first DWI. In 2021, 116 deaths in Arkansas resulted from accidents involving a driver with a BAC level of 0.15% or higher.
Keep in mind that the state hardly uses the term “aggravated.” It also joins Mississippi and Alabama, which do not impose higher penalties for individuals with high BAC levels.
Exemption for Cyclists
Bicycles are not considered vehicles under Arkansas law. The state further specifies that bicycles equipped with a pedal-assist motor are not classified as vehicles.
But even though the standard DWI for motor vehicles does not apply to bikes, cyclists who are riding while intoxicated might still be charged with public drunkenness, which is synonymous with public intoxication. This charge is a class C misdemeanor, which carries penalties of up to $500 and imprisonment not exceeding 30 days.
The charge would become an unclassified misdemeanor if the bicycle user committed public intoxication twice within five years. They face harsher penalties if they are convicted of an unclassified misdemeanor three times or more in the same five-year period. Besides a maximum $500 fine, cyclists must spend up to 30 days in county jail. They also need to undergo no more than one year of probation, which includes enrollment in a program that treats alcohol dependency.
Underage DWI Laws in Arkansas
Underage DWI laws impact drivers under 21 years old who operate vehicles under the influence. These regulations aim to decrease the number of injuries and fatalities associated with underage drinking, especially given the concerning data in Arkansas.
Around 18% of deaths involving those under the legal drinking age were caused by intoxicated drivers in 2019. In addition, a 2021 statewide study of college students showed that around 2% of respondents operated a vehicle under the influence at least once in the past 30 days. In a different study, the Arkansas Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2021, 4.6% of students said they drove after drinking in the previous 30 days.
One primary way to curb this dangerous behavior is through zero-tolerance policies. Like the rest of the country, Arkansas maintains laws that penalize underage drivers with a BAC level of 0.02 or higher. BAC results may be obtained through saliva, blood, urine, and breath tests similar to those given to adult drivers.
DWI-Adjacent Laws in Arkansas
Unlawful Possession of Marijuana in a Vehicle
Unlike its southern neighbors, Louisiana and Mississippi, Arkansas does not fully decriminalize marijuana use. The drug may only be utilized for medicinal purposes. Patients can qualify for drug purchases if they are suffering from various diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and PTSD.
Medical marijuana use is subject to multiple restrictions. For example, qualified patients are restricted to a maximum of 2.5 ounces from a licensed dispensary every 14 days. They must register with the health department and obtain an ID card before purchasing the drug.
Another restriction is that marijuana cannot be used in motor vehicles. Those caught unlawfully possessing less than four ounces of marijuana are charged with a class A misdemeanor. Individuals convicted of the charge face a maximum $2,500 fine and up to one year in prison.
Boating While Intoxicated
Operating a boat while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol is an unclassified misdemeanor. The penalties an arrested Arkansan might receive depend on their previous convictions. For instance, those charged with BWI for the first time could face penalties. These consist of fines between $100 and $1,000, jail time of up to one year, and a six-month boating license suspension.
Third-time offenders, meanwhile, need to deal with fines between $900 and $5,000, a maximum of one year in prison, and a license suspension that lasts at least 30 months.
Unlawful Possession of an Open Alcoholic Beverage Container in a Vehicle
It is illegal for drivers and passengers to open alcoholic beverage containers within the vehicle. The container must not be present in the space where the driver or passenger sits. Additionally, those inside the car shouldn't be able to access it easily.
Arkansas does allow exceptions to this law, though. Having open containers in areas like the cargo area, trunk, or glove compartment is not considered an offense. The same rule applies to vehicles without trunks, which allow for the placement of alcohol in spaces not typically used by passengers or drivers.
In some cases, passengers can hold open containers as long as they are not easily accessible to the driver. This exception also applies in situations where the passenger is paying the driver or if the vehicle is an RV or a house trailer.
What Are the Penalties for a DWI in Arkansas?
Arkansans arrested for driving while intoxicated must contend with a range of penalties, the harshness of which depends on their conviction history. Those who commit DWI twice or thrice within 10 years will be charged with a misdemeanor. Meanwhile, individuals caught driving under the influence for the fourth time within the same period face felony charges.
Type of DWI Offense
Type of Criminal Charge
Length of Incarceration
$150 to $1,000
From 24 hours to 1 year in jail
Suspended for 6 months if the driver had no prior DWI convictions within the previous 5 years
$400 to $3,000
From 7 days to 1 year in jail
Suspended for 24 months if the driver had one prior DWI in the past 5 years
$900 to $5,000
From 90 days to 1 year in jail
Suspended for 30 months if the driver had two previous DWI convictions in the past 5 years
Fourth and Succeeding Offenses
Unclassified felony; becomes class B felony for the 6th and subsequent offenses
$900 to $15,000
From 1 year to 25 years in prison
Revoked for 4 years
Those charged with a misdemeanor may apply for a restricted license. As the title implies, drivers with this type of license can only travel to and from school, work, or home, as well as other essential locations. The restricted permit usually applies in cases where the vehicle operator has no other means of transportation. They may also need to use an ignition interlock device.
Additionally, drivers charged with DWI will incur 14 demerit points on their license. Those who receive 14 or more points within the last 36 months will face a license suspension.
Another requirement for those convicted is enrollment in an alcohol education or treatment program.
Penalties for Minors
Vehicle operators under 21 years old who drive under the influence can be charged with underage DWI. The charge carries a range of penalties that depend on their conviction history. Note that penalties for an underage DWI are lower than a standard DWI charge.
Type of DWI Offense
Type of Criminal Charge
Minimum Length of Community Service
$100 to $500
Suspended for 90 days
$200 to $1,000
Suspended for 1 year
$500 to $2,000
Suspended for 3 years
Victim Impact Panel
Arkansans whose driving licenses are revoked or suspended must come to a victim impact panel. This program employs an approach called restorative justice, where the focus is mainly placed on community building. The victim impact panel brings together various resource persons who discuss their experiences with alcohol-related accidents. These speakers include DWI victims or their families, as well as first responders.
Implied Consent Penalties
Drivers who reject chemical tests to determine their BAC level face penalties. Those who refuse for the first time, for instance, face a 180-day license suspension. Meanwhile, second-time offenders will have their license suspended for two years. On the other hand, those who refuse a third time have to deal with a three-year license suspension. Fourth-time offenders face a bigger penalty: a lifetime revocation of their license.
Dram Shop and Social Host Laws in Arkansas
Dram shops are businesses that sell alcoholic beverages, like taverns, bars, and restaurants. Under state law, these establishments may be liable for damages if their customers cause an accident. Generally, Arkansas squarely imposes liability for alcohol-related accidents on the intoxicated individual.
However, there are still situations where, apart from the drunk driver, the dram shop is also held responsible and can be sued. A civil jury can decide whether the dram shop was a contributing factor in an accident involving a minor driving under the influence.
Another situation where state law imposes liability on the dram shop is when the shop continues to sell alcohol to a patron despite the latter being clearly drunk. Incidentally, Arkansas may allow dram shops to avoid liability by stating that they maintain a reasonable belief that their customer was not obviously intoxicated.
Unlike bars, restaurants, and taverns, social hosts are unlicensed individuals who provide alcohol to others. The law makes it clear that these hosts may not be held liable for alcohol-related accidents if they give such beverages to those of legal drinking age.
Social hosts are not entirely off the hook, though. They can face criminal charges if they knowingly give alcohol to individuals under 21 who are not part of their family. This law does not apply during religious events.
Besides dram shops and social hosts, state parks are also authorized to sell alcohol. Liability, then, can be imposed on them. The law additionally places legal responsibility on third-party vendors that sell alcohol on state park premises.
Dram Shop and Social Host Liability Insurance
Those who fail to comply with state laws could face lawsuits. As such, one way for businesses to protect themselves financially from litigation-related costs is through liability insurance.
According to the Insurance Services Office, each state maintains a grade that describes its liability liquor hazard situation. The higher the grade, the higher the liability imposed on the alcohol vendor. At present, Arkansas has a grade of 3 (on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest). This means those applying for insurance can get relatively lower rates in Arkansas compared to other states. But while this low grade implies less strict liability on the part of dram shops and social hosts, the state still expects them to do their part in helping their customers or peers avoid irresponsible drinking.
Business owners looking to lessen their legal exposure can choose between two types of policies:
Liquor legal liability: This policy allows dram shops to cover property damage or bodily injury costs.
Host liquor liability: This helps social hosts cover damages related to alcohol-related accidents at events like weddings and office parties.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Drunk Driving Injury in Arkansas?
The damages plaintiffs can receive depend on their level of fault vis-à-vis the defendants. Under Arkansas law, victims may obtain full compensation for their injuries from liable parties. However, in many cases, the plaintiff may have contributed to the accident.
This is where the modified comparative fault system comes into play. To put it differently, victims in Arkansas who are partially responsible for a DWI accident may still recover damages. The award, though, decreases in proportion to their fault percentage.
Plaintiffs must demonstrate four elements to strengthen their case for compensation in a DWI accident:
Duty. Plaintiffs need to prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care. In cases of vehicular accidents, this duty entails not causing harm or injury when driving.
Breach. Plaintiffs must prove that the defendant violated the duty of care.
Causation. Plaintiffs then need to demonstrate how the defendant's breach of the duty of care, like driving while intoxicated, led to injuries.
Damages. Ultimately, plaintiffs must prove how the defendant’s behavior caused their victim to suffer damages.
Individuals who prove these elements successfully stand to gain compensation for their DWI-related injuries. However, the state’s modified comparative fault system bars recovery for victims who are found to be responsible for 50% or more of the crash. Because of this, those who cannot demonstrate how these four elements reduce their fault percentage below 50% are not eligible to receive damages.
To illustrate the 50% bar rule, let’s say a person was injured after being impacted by an intoxicated driver. The victim was able to establish that the DWI accident caused damages worth $10,000. During trial proceedings, the court discovered that the plaintiff was speeding when the collision occurred. As such, the judge determined that the victim was at fault for 10% of the accident. This percentage is then used to decrease the damages the plaintiff receives by $1,000 to the final amount of $9,000.
Additionally, if the victim is found to be responsible for 50% or more of the crash, they cannot recover any damages for their injuries.
Types of Damages
Compensatory damages are awards that allow plaintiffs to regain economic and non-economic losses.
Economic losses include medical expenses, vehicle repair or replacement costs, and lost wages. Non-economic losses, meanwhile, are non-monetary. DWI victims have to prove they are owed compensation for a range of losses, from pain and suffering to loss of companionship.
Punitive damages, on the other hand, refer to awards given to plaintiffs that allow courts to punish defendants. Proving that the liable party committed gross negligence, though, is not enough to help plaintiffs recover punitive damages. They need evidence demonstrating how defendants engaged in malicious acts—a high bar to clear.
Caps on Damages
There are no caps on the compensatory damages DWI victims may obtain in Arkansas. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are limited to either three times the worth of compensatory damages (as long as these do not exceed $1 million) or $250,000, whichever is greater. The cap for punitive damages does not exist in cases involving convincing and clear evidence that the injuries caused by the defendant’s intentional conduct harmed the plaintiff.
There are limits on damages in cases involving governmental negligence. The state does not allow lawsuits against entities like cities and counties except if these organizations maintain liability insurance. One thing to note is that Arkansas requires all entities to carry auto liability insurance for vehicles under their control. These policies must conform to the minimum state requirements, which are:
$25,000 for the death or injury of one person.
$50,000 for the death or injury of two or more people.
$25,000 for property damage.
The Statute of Limitations in Arkansas
Arkansas allows three years for individuals seeking damages for DWI-related injuries. Plaintiffs must press claims against at-fault parties within three years from the date of injury. The same timeline applies in cases involving wrongful death; legal representatives or family members need to file actions against liable parties within three years of the victim’s death.
Those eligible to press legal action on behalf of their deceased loved ones include the surviving spouse and their children, the victim’s parents, and their siblings. Arkansas additionally allows individuals who, at any time, stood as a parent-like figure in the deceased’s life.
If the victim was a minor during the accident, they have three years after turning 18 to take legal action. Under state law, the age of majority is 18.
Courts also adhere to the three-year period in cases concerning property damage.
Resources for DWI Defendants and Folks Injured by an Impaired Driver in Arkansas
The DPS works to improve the security and safety of all Arkansans through various programs. One of these is the Crime Victims Reparations Board. Those hurt by drunk driving accidents can recover financial compensation from the department as long as they meet a range of criteria. Notably, Arkansans injured in another state that does not maintain a similar reparations program are eligible for damages. Keep in mind that the compensation does not cover pain and suffering. Another area that the department oversees is the Arkansas State Police, which handles crash reports. Citizens looking to obtain these documents can do so online.
AID has been protecting the financial interests of Arkansans through various actions, like market regulation implementation, for more than a century. It shields consumers from potential financial hardships by ensuring that insurance companies remain solvent. One can find resources on the department’s website, which contains a range of information, from the top insurers by annual premiums to trends involving the state’s insurance industry. It also deals with cases of insurance fraud. DWI accident victims subjected to fraud can call 866-660-0888 to reach the Criminal Investigations Division and report fraudulent agents. Individuals may also file a complaint online. Note that the division has law enforcement status, which means its agents can serve warrants and carry weapons as part of their duties.
The state’s DFA takes charge of issues involving driver’s licenses in Arkansas. It can also disqualify, suspend, and revoke licenses to penalize intoxicated drivers. Those who receive notices regarding their license suspension may request an administrative hearing to contest the department’s decision. Additionally, individuals may apply for an uncontested hearing to determine their eligibility for a restricted license or an ignition interlock device. Another service that DFA provides is information regarding alcohol education and treatment programs throughout the state. One can access the website to view the service areas of contractors that offer treatment or education services.
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