Despite being the least populated state in the U.S., Wyoming is consistently considered one of the worst when it comes to drunk driving accidents.
According to a report from the CDC, the Cowboy State’s alcohol-impaired driving death rate (per 100,000 population) is twice as high as the national rate. In a similar population-adjusted report from the National Academy of Sciences, Wyoming also emerged with one of the highest alcohol-impaired driving fatality rates for a 20-year data period.
Wyoming’s lenient traffic laws conducive to DUIs and the sparse population itself — mainly a rural one — may be the root causes.
For starters, the state has one of the highest speed limits at 75-80 mph. Sobriety checkpoints are illegal, as interpreted under the state’s roadblock statute. Motorists cannot be ticketed for not wearing seatbelts unless caught with another traffic violation. Weaving within lanes is legal.
Given the sobering crash statistics above, it is important for Wyoming motorists to be aware of the state’s DUI laws. This is equally important for out-of-state motorists who want to enjoy the crisp mountain air during autumn, drive through the state’s rugged terrain, and visit Wyoming’s national parks. After all, safe driving starts with awareness of regulations.
Read on to get a snapshot of Wyoming’s DUI laws and penalties. Relevant information can also be found about filing a personal injury lawsuit against drivers responsible for DUI accidents.
Basic DUI Laws in Wyoming
Wyoming statutes use the term “DUI” to mean driving or being in control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcoholic liquor, controlled substances, or both. There are two ways to ascertain DUI:
Impaired driving or control of the vehicle
A person may be arrested for DUI if they drive in a way that gives a police officer a reason to believe they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This usually happens when an officer pulls over a driver for a traffic violation. The officer may perform sobriety tests on the driver. These include the one-leg-stand test, the walk-and-turn test, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. If the driver fails these tests, they will be arrested for DUI.
Blood alcohol test
Following a DUI arrest, the driver’s blood alcohol content will be measured within a two-hour period through breath, blood, and urine tests. A BAC result of 0.08% or more is automatically considered a violation. A result between 0.05% and 0.08% is not presumptive evidence of alcohol influence without additional compelling evidence under Wyo. Stat. § 31-5-233(c). On the other hand, commercial drivers have a lower BAC threshold of 0.04%.
Wyo. Stat. § 31-6-102(a) defines implied consent as the duty of each person driving or in control of the vehicle to agree with the required BAC tests solely for the purpose of determining impairment.
Unlike in other states, drivers in Wyoming can lawfully refuse a BAC test without losing their license. However, nothing will stop the police from administering the test, as long as they have a valid search warrant. Most importantly, the test will be required if the incident involves bodily injury or death.
WYDOT’s 2022 Strategic Highway Safety Plan shows that serious vehicular crashes tend to happen more for drivers aged 25 and younger compared to any other age group. Possible reasons for this are peer pressure, inexperienced driving, and poor judgment. Because of this, Wyoming laws have a lower BAC tolerance limit of 0.02% for drivers under the age of 21, as per Wyo. Stat. § 31-5-234(b).
While other states have concentration limits or per se laws for drugged DUI, Wyoming statutes do not specifically indicate so. Moreover, these laws broadly define controlled substances to include drugs, chemicals able to cause impairment when inhaled, and psychoactive substances that can induce mental or physical impairment. This means that having a prescription for medication that falls into the category of controlled substances cannot be used as a legal defense under Wyo. Stat. § 31-5-233(d).
However, given that marijuana use is generally prohibited in the state, it can be inferred that marijuana DUI is also a violation of these statutes, up to concentrations detectable in standard drug tests.
Alcohol Open Container Laws
Under Wyo. Stat. § 31-5-235(b), it is illegal to have at hand an open container of an alcoholic beverage while a vehicle is in motion on any public roadway. The same law also provides exceptions, allowing open containers to be placed in areas within the vehicle not readily accessible when the vehicle is moving. These areas can be inside the trunk, in the back of the pickup truck, or in the secured cabinet of a recreational vehicle.
DUI-Related Laws in Wyoming
Impaired Operation of a Watercraft
Impaired boat operators are charged similarly to land vehicle drivers. However, a provision unique to watercraft DUI laws can be used as a legal maneuver for defense. Called an affirmative defense, it allows defendants to present evidence that alcohol consumption happened after operating the watercraft but before the BAC test. This applies if the watercraft operated is a motorboat and the BAC shows a result of 0.08% or more.
DUI While Riding a Bicycle
In accordance with 31-5-702 of Wyoming’s Uniform Act Regulating Traffic on Highways, anyone riding a bicycle must follow the general rights and duties of other drivers sharing the road. Therefore, the basic DUI laws also apply to cyclists, making it illegal for them to operate their bicycles while under the influence of alcohol, controlled substances, or both.
Unlawful Possession of Marijuana
Wyoming is one of the few states that prohibits most forms of marijuana use, recreational and medicinal included, except for patients with intractable epilepsy using low-THC products. Initiatives for cannabis reform, such as the Wyoming Patient Cannabis Act of 2022 and the Wyoming Cannabis Amendments, are still in the works.
It is illegal to have three ounces or less of marijuana inside a vehicle. This offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months of incarceration and a $750 fine. For concentrations above three ounces, the penalties are up to five years of imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. There will be an additional fine of $500 if found to be within 500 feet of a school.
What Are the Penalties for a DUI in Wyoming?
The penalties for a DUI in the state are established in Wyo. Stat. § 31-5-233 and depend on the offender’s prior convictions within the last 10 years.
All offenders will also be required to undergo substance abuse assessments, the results of which the court will take into account when determining the appropriate punishment.
Convictions up to the third offense are considered misdemeanors, while the fourth and subsequent offenses are considered felonies. Penalties are summarized as follows:
Up to $750
Up to 10,000
Up to 6 months
7 days to 6 months
30 days to 6 months
Up to 7 years
Ignition interlock device installation (BAC ≧ 0.15)
Lifetime (with provision for reduction)
Depends on case facts
The driver has 20 days to contest the license suspension, which takes effect right away following an arrest. A written request for a contested case hearing must be submitted to the Wyoming Office of Administrative Hearings to restore the license, or the driver will lose the privilege of a hearing thereafter.
In addition to the aforementioned consequences, offenders will be required by the court to carry the costlier type of insurance called SR-22, undergo probation, and attend the Wyoming 24/7 Sobriety Program.
DUI with Child Passengers
If there are child passengers in the vehicle, any driver 18 years of age and older convicted of DUI will face up to one-year imprisonment for the first offense. The prison term increases to five years for succeeding DUIs. In accordance with Wyo. Stat. § 31-5-233(m), child passengers are defined as persons under 16 years of age.
The penalties will be more serious if the DUI results in serious bodily injuries. For the first offense, the penalty includes up to 10 years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and license revocation. The length of imprisonment increases to up to 20 years for subsequent offenses.
There are similarities between the penalties for youthful and adult offenders, except that for the former, imprisonment is imposed only after a second DUI conviction.
Under Wyo. Stat. § 31-5-234 (e), if the second DUI conviction happens within a year after the first conviction, the offender will receive a prison term of up to one month. If the third and subsequent offenses occur within two years after the second offense, the offender will serve a prison sentence of up to six months, as shown in the table of penalties below:
Up to $750
Up to $750
Up to $750
Up to 6 months
Ignition interlock device Installation (BAC ≧ 0.15)
Moreover, the court will order the youthful offender to attend a substance abuse assessment and undergo relevant treatment as part of probation.
Wyoming Dram Shop Laws
Dram shop liability pertains to a commercial establishment’s legal responsibility when their patrons of legal age, served with alcoholic liquor, cause injury to another.
In Wyoming, dram shop laws have limited application. Under Wyo. Stat. § 12-8-301, no establishment is legally responsible for injuries or property damage caused by their intoxicated patrons.
However, what state law prohibits is serving alcohol to customers or guests under 21. If a bar owner violates this law, it will be financially responsible for damages caused by the intoxicated minor.
The above statute also applies to social party hosts. This means that a person hosting a party can be held financially liable if minor partygoers, other than their family members, get intoxicated and cause injury to another person.
Getting Insurance for Dram Shop Liability
Lawsuits can cost a lot if paid out of pocket. For this reason, liability insurance that covers dram-shop-related regulations can be helpful both for businesses and individuals
In Wyoming, the following types of insurance products can be obtained, depending on a business’s needs:
Liquor liability insurance: This can be a beneficial add-on to a business’s general liability insurance as it fills in gaps not covered by the latter. It provides coverage in the event a patron is overserved with alcoholic liquor and causes alcohol-related injuries, potentially giving rise to a negligence suit against the business.
Social host liability insurance: This short-term insurance can be secured as a rider to a homeowner's insurance or as a stand-alone policy. It provides coverage for property damage and bodily injuries caused by alcohol-related incidents.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Drunk Driving Injury in Wyoming?
Drunk driving victims are entitled to obtain compensation for their injuries if they can prove the drunk driver’s negligence through a civil lawsuit. These are the elements that must be proven to successfully recover compensation:
The drunk driver breached their duty of care toward other road users.
The breach of duty comes from the driver’s action of taking intoxicating liquor or controlled substances while operating the vehicle.
The drunk driver’s failure to uphold their duty caused injuries to the victim.
The victim suffered losses because of the injuries.
However, should the victim have some degree of fault in the accident, their financial recovery will be diminished according to the percentage of their fault. For example, if the victim is found to be 10% at fault in the accident, they can only recover 90% of the compensation. Such is how comparative fault laws work in Wyoming. Not to mention, the victim can no longer make a financial recovery if found to be more than 50% at fault.
Types of Compensation That Can Be Recovered
There are usually two types of damages that drunk driving victims can recover:
Economic damages are for tangible losses such as medical bills, lost wages, and property damage.
Non-economic damages are for the victim’s intangible losses such as mental distress, pain and suffering, and reduced quality of life.
In rare cases, the court will award punitive damages if the driver has been grossly negligent. This serves to punish the wrongdoer and dissuade others from doing something similar.
Caps on Damages
Wyoming’s constitution does not generally allow any caps on damages for injuries and death except for certain claims, such as those against the government.
The Statute of Limitations in Wyoming
The deadline for filing a lawsuit, or the statute of limitations, is four years in Wyoming. The clock starts to run at the time the injury happened. If the victim passes away without any lawsuit being filed, the statute of limitations becomes two years after death, according to Wyo. Stat. § 1-38-102. If the defendant is a government employee, the statute of limitations is three years.
The deadline is also different for victims who are minors; in this case, it is three years after their 18th birthday. There are also cases where the deadline will be delayed, such as when the defendant is out of state or in hiding.
Failure to bring any court action within the deadlines will hinder the recovery of compensatory damages.
Resources for Folks Injured by an Impaired Driver in Wyoming
Injured individuals from low-income households can apply for TANF/POWER programs while awaiting the result of their disability application. They can get various kinds of assistance, which may include stress management, physical therapy, and health recovery planning. More information can be obtained from the local Wyoming DFS office. The SNAP/POWER Program Management Office can be reached at 307-856-6522.
Medicaid programs under WDH's Healthcare Financing Division can be of help to injured persons in need of financial assistance. To find out how to apply for Medicaid in Wyoming, call customer service at 855-294-2127 and select option 1 twice. Applications may also be submitted online.
The State Bar assists injured individuals in taking the necessary steps to navigate the legal system by getting a lawyer. It offers options for low-income individuals through Equal Justice Wyoming, Legal Aid of Wyoming, and the Modest Means Program. For more information on finding a lawyer, call a state bar representative at 307-632-9061. Its office location is at 4124 Laramie Street, Cheyenne, WY 82001.
MADD is a global non-profit organization that supports victims and their families. The organization lobbies for stronger legislation, lends emotional support, and advocates for victim compensation, among other things. MADD Wyoming’s office is located at 4800 Converse Ave.
Suite #20826, Cheyenne, WY 82003. Its contact number is 307-225-6233, and its email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Its 24-hour Victim/Survivor helpline is 877.MADD.HELP or (1-877-623-3435).
Resources for DUI Offenders
The program provides legal assistance statewide to indigents convicted of a crime. Assistance is possible through the University of Wyoming College of Law Legal Clinic. Indigents with DUI convictions can call 307-766-3223 for help.
Serving Wyoming for more than three decades, Injury Prevention Resources is a non-profit committed to roadway and community safety. It provides DUI Supervised Probation and Adult Alcohol Education programs. Individuals facing DUI charges who are interested in how the non-profit can help them navigate the justice system may call its office at 307-856-2821 or send an email to email@example.com. Its physical location is at 303 North Broadway Avenue, Riverton, WY 82501.
DUI offenders unable to hire a private attorney due to financial constraints are provided with a public defender by the county court. For contact information per county, visit the website of the State Public Defender’s Office. Its main office is located in the Rogers Building at 316 West 22nd Street, Cheyenne, WY 82002, and its phone number is 307-777-7519.
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