Did you know that North Dakota is among the top five states with the highest alcohol consumption nationwide in 2023? According to a report by Drug Helpline, North Dakota has an average alcohol consumption of 3.16 gallons per person per year, placing it at the fourth spot on the list. The state also has the highest percentage of adults who drink excessively, with 24.7% of this age group engaging in binge or heavy drinking.
Moreover, the study revealed that North Dakota emerged as the state with the highest number of driving fatalities attributed to alcohol. The results showed that 46.7% of vehicular-related deaths in the state involved alcohol consumption — a figure significantly higher than the national average of 30%.
Unfortunately, these findings do not come as a surprise, as The Peace Garden State has held similar records throughout the years. A 2022 study by the insurance company Insurify found that the state recorded the highest number of driving under the influence incidents. Meanwhile, in 2021, 32% of motor vehicle-related fatalities in the state were related to alcohol.
These results are consistent with North Dakota’s 2020 data. During this year, the state had the second-highest DUI arrests, and one-third of its traffic fatalities were due to drunk driving. It also ranked second among all states with the highest percentage of adults who drank excessively, with 24% compared to the national average of 19%. Meanwhile, alcohol-impaired driving deaths were at 43%, which was 15% higher than the average in the U.S.
Considering these statistics, it is important to understand North Dakota’s laws regarding DUI accidents. Here are some of the things you should know:
General DUI Laws in North Dakota
Definition of DUI in North Dakota
Under the North Dakota Century Code, DUI is a criminal offense committed when a person is driving a vehicle while they are under the influence of alcohol, drugs, intoxicants, or a combination of these with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher. The state also defines driving as being in actual physical control over a vehicle, meaning the driver has bodily influence or control to operate the vehicle and its machinery. These definitions do not require that the driver be conscious or that the vehicle be running.
Based on these definitions, any driver with a BAC of 0.08% is deemed “per se DUI.” This entails that as long as the concentration of alcohol in their blood is 0.08 or greater, they can be arrested for DUI even if they do not show typical signs of impairment.
However, a person may still be arrested and charged with DUI even if their BAC is lower than the legal limit. This rule applies if they are driving or operating a commercial vehicle and their BAC is 0.04% or higher. DUI also applies to individuals displaying signs of impairment consistent with the actions of a person under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs to the extent that they cannot drive safely.
While some states differentiate DUI from driving while impaired, or DWI, North Dakota uses DUI for drunk driving offenses.
North Dakota’s Implied Consent Law
North Dakota follows an implied consent law. It states that if you are driving or operating a vehicle in any part of the state and eventually get stopped by the police on DUI suspicions, you are deemed to have automatically agreed to undergo a chemical test. This test usually involves the use of a breathalyzer, but in some cases, you may be asked to submit a blood, urine, or saliva sample.
In case you fail the chemical test or refuse to undergo one, your license will be suspended accordingly:
The driver fails the chemical test
The driver fails the chemical test (with a BAC of at least 0.18%)
The driver refuses to undergo testing
North Dakota’s DUI Penalties
In case one is convicted of DUI in North Dakota, the possible jail time and fine amount would generally depend on the number of prior DUI offenses they committed in the last seven years.
DUI convictions equate to the following penalties:
First offense (Class B misdemeanor)
If the BAC is below 0.16%, then:
Suspension of driver’s license and related privileges for 91 days
If the BAC is 0.16% or higher, then:
180-day suspension of driver’s license and related privileges
Second offense in seven years (Class B misdemeanor)
Participation in a 24/7 sobriety program for 360 days
If the BAC is below 0.18%, then a 365-day suspension of driver’s license and related privileges
If the BAC is 0.18% or higher, then a two-year suspension of driver’s license and related privileges
Third offense in seven years (Class A misdemeanor)
Participation in a 24/7 sobriety program for 360 days
Supervised probation for 360 days
If the BAC is below 0.18%, then a two-year suspension of driver’s license and related privileges
If the BAC is 0.18% or higher, then a three-year suspension of driver’s license and related privileges
Fourth and subsequent offenses in 15 years (Class C felony)
Imprisonment for one year and one day
Fine of $2,000
Participation in a 24/7 sobriety program for two years
Supervised probation for two years
DUI convictions cannot be removed from one’s record. That said, the look-back period in North Dakota, or the length of time in which prior offenses are considered when there is a current DUI charge, is generally seven years.
Other DUI-related Laws in North Dakota
Aggravated DUI in North Dakota
Apart from the number of times one has violated DUI laws in North Dakota, other aggravating circumstances can escalate a DUI from a misdemeanor to a felony, which carries harsher penalties.
If a DUI incident causes serious bodily harm to another individual (also known as criminal vehicular injury), this may be considered a class C felony, which imposes a jail time of up to five years (with a minimum of two years for those with prior DUI offenses). The offender may also be required to pay a fine of up to $10,000.
If a DUI incident results in the victim's death (criminal vehicular homicide), the driver is considered to have committed a class A felony. They may be sentenced to jail time for as long as 20 years (with a minimum of 10 years if the driver has prior DUI offenses). A fine of up to $20,000 may also be imposed.
If, at the time of the DUI incident, the driver, who is of legal age, is accompanied by a minor passenger or someone who has yet to turn 21, the driver is deemed to have committed a class C felony. This classification carries a prison term of up to five years. The offender may also be required to pay a fine of $10,000.
North Dakota’s Underage DUI Law
North Dakota has zero tolerance for those under 21 years of age caught driving or operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.02% or above. For first-time offenders, their driver’s license will be suspended for 91 days. A second offense within five years calls for a one-year suspension of their license and driving privileges, while a third or subsequent violation of DUI laws in the state will result in a two-year suspension of their driver’s license.
If the minor arrested for DUI has a BAC of 0.08% or higher, their charges will be the same as those ascribed to someone 21 or older.
North Dakota’s DUI Laws for Commercial Drivers
North Dakota has stricter DUI laws when it comes to individuals issued with a commercial driver’s license. If a person is driving a commercial vehicle while drunk or drugged or with a BAC of 0.04% or higher, they may be arrested for DUI. Their license may also be revoked for one year if this is the first offense. A second offense results in a lifetime revocation. These rules also apply to CDL holders who refuse to undergo a chemical test.
In case the commercial vehicle driver is transporting hazardous substances or materials at the time they are apprehended for suspected DUI, their CDL may be revoked for three years. Meanwhile, a second offense results in a permanent CDL revocation.
CMV drivers or operators who are stopped on suspicion of DUI but have a BAC below 0.04% are prohibited from driving for the next 24 hours. The police officer may also issue an “out-of-service” notice.
North Dakota’s Open Container Law
Under North Dakota’s open container law, it is illegal to have open or partially consumed alcoholic beverages in a vehicle, whether the vehicle is moving, stopped, or parked, on a public highway or parking lot. This law applies to all beverages with an alcohol by volume of at least 0.5%, including drinks within reach of the driver or passenger. Drivers can be cited and fined $50 for violating this law, even if they have not consumed the drinks. While there is no jail time for this offense, a conviction will remain on their driving record.
There are, however, exceptions to this law. The open container law is not applicable to passengers in a vehicle-for-hire, such as taxis, buses, and limousines. Another exception is if the individual is in a mobile home or camper, provided that a solid partition separates the living quarters from the driving area. Also, the law does not apply to a vehicle’s typically unoccupied areas, such as the trunk.
North Dakota’s Dram Shop Law
A dram shop is an establishment that sells alcoholic beverages. North Dakota implements a dram shop law. This means that a bar, tavern, or any other business that sells alcohol may be penalized if they provide alcohol to an individual who is already drunk or someone under the age of 21.
This law states that baristas or business owners should refuse to sell alcohol to someone already visibly intoxicated. They are also responsible for determining if their customer is already inebriated or has had too much to drink. If a business continues to serve alcohol to someone visibly intoxicated and that person later causes an accident while driving, the business may be held liable for the damages.
The dram shop law extends to social hosts. A party host must refuse to serve alcoholic beverages to an underage or already intoxicated guest or at least prevent them from driving. Otherwise, they may also be sued for damages if the guest gets into a car accident and causes injury or death.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Drunk Driving Injury in North Dakota?
If a DUI incident in North Dakota results in an injury or death, the victims or their families can file a lawsuit against the driver. If it results in a conviction, the victim/plaintiff can recover damages from the offender/defendant.
The two most common types of damages are economic and non-economic. Economic damages, also called special damages, are compensation for monetary losses that can be verified objectively. These include medical care and treatment expenses, loss of income or earning capacity, funeral and burial costs, and loss of employment or business and related opportunities. Economic damages do not have any cap; these awards largely depend on the receipts or other proof of costs the plaintiff could provide to the court.
Non-economic or general damages, on the other hand, arise from intangible, subjective losses, such as the pain, suffering, or inconvenience the DUI incident caused the victim and their family. These also refer to the disfigurement, mental anguish, trauma, loss of companionship, and emotional distress the plaintiff experienced due to the accident and the injury or death of the victim.
Under the North Dakota Century Code, if a plaintiff asks for non-economic damages less than $50,000, they can specify the amount. Meanwhile, if the request exceeds $50,000, they should provide a reasonable sum. This means they can ask the jury for any amount as long as it is sensible.
In certain cases, the plaintiff may also demand punitive damages. Also called exemplary damages, these are awarded by the court when there is clear and convincing evidence that the defendant is guilty of fraud, oppression, or actual malice in the DUI accident. A plaintiff can sue for punitive damages if the defendant has intentionally or consciously hurt or defrauded them. These damages are a way to punish the defendant and provide an example so that others will not commit the same infraction.
DUI plaintiffs and their lawyers should note that North Dakota observes a modified comparative negligence principle. This presupposes that if the DUI victim has played a role in the accident, they can still demand payment for damages. However, to receive compensation, their fault or responsibility for the incident should not exceed 50%.
The Statute of Limitations in North Dakota
The statute of limitations in North Dakota, or the length of time a DUI victim has to file a lawsuit against the offender, depends on the type of crime committed. The countdown to this deadline generally starts from the day the crime occurred, although it may be shorter or longer based on the circumstances of each case. That said, victims usually have a maximum of two years to file a case if the DUI accident is classified as a misdemeanor. If the DUI incident has resulted in a felony, they are typically given three years to bring the offender to court.
In case the DUI victim fails to file a lawsuit within the specified period, they may be barred from commencing any legal action against the offender and consequently lose their right to recover damages.
Resources for DUI Victims and Defendants in North Dakota
Indigent North Dakotans involved in a DUI case can reach out to one of the state’s seven Public Defender Offices for legal assistance. These offices are run by law firms that operate independently from contracted lawyers or other public defender offices. The offices and their contact information are as follows:
410 East Thayer, Ste. 201
Bismarck, ND 58501
219 4th Avenue N.E.
Devils Lake, ND 58301
135 Sims, Ste. 221
Dickinson, ND 58601
912 3rd Ave. S.
Fargo, ND 58103
311 South 4th Street, Suite 102
Grand Forks, ND 58201
18 Second St. NE, Ste. 1
Minot, ND 58703
34th St. E, Suite 201
Williston, ND 58801
MADD is a nonprofit organization founded in 1980 by a California-based mother who lost her daughter in a DUI accident. Its goals are to increase public awareness of impaired driving, eliminate this dangerous activity, and support DUI victims and their loved ones. MADD has several programs and services to help victims with their legal, financial, and emotional concerns, among others. You can get in touch with MADD North Dakota by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
LSND is another nonprofit organization that offers free legal representation to vulnerable residents of the state, including the elderly or those from low-income families, in civil law matters. It was established in 2004 following the merger of two legal aid programs: Legal Assistance of North Dakota, Inc., and the New Town-based North Dakota Legal Services. The organization, which has over seven attorneys, has offices in Belcourt, Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot, and New Town.
For individuals under the age of 60, call LSND at 1-800-634-5263. This line is available every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (CT). Meanwhile, for those over 60, call 1-866-621-9886. This number is accessible from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, while on Fridays, the line is only available until 2 p.m.
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