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Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense that endangers the lives of not only the driver but also passengers and other drivers on the road. In Kentucky, DUI laws are taken very seriously, and those who are found guilty of breaking them may face severe penalties. 

According to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, over 4,700 alcohol-related crashes in 2019 resulted in 112 fatalities and 2,431 injuries. Understanding the state’s DUI laws can help keep you, your passengers, and others safe while on the road.

Victims of drunk driving accidents also need to know what steps to take after an accident to recover damages and hold the at-fault driver accountable for their actions.

Here’s a close look at DUI laws in Kentucky, penalties for violating these laws, how much you can sue someone for after a drunk driving accident, and resources for individuals injured by impaired drivers.

The Legal BAC Limit in Kentucky

In Kentucky, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher. For commercial drivers, the legal limit is .04%. There is a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 21, meaning any detectable amount of alcohol in their system can result in a DUI charge. 

It is important to note that a person's BAC can vary depending on several factors, including weight, gender, and the amount of alcohol consumed. As a result, it is best to avoid driving after consuming any amount of alcohol to avoid violating these laws and potentially causing an accident.

Prescription Medicine & OTC Drugs

Under Kentucky law, it is unlawful for a person to drive a motor vehicle while impaired by any substance.

This means that you can be charged with a DUI if you drive after taking prescription medication or over-the-counter drugs that impair your ability to function normally and safely operate a vehicle.

There is no minimum amount that needs to be present in your system for this to apply. A police officer may ask you to participate in a field sobriety test if they believe you to be impaired and unfit to drive.

If you are taking a prescribed medication according to its instructions, a prosecutor cannot use lab tests to show the presence of that drug in your system; however, they can use other evidence to prove that the drug impaired your ability to drive.

Implied Consent Law

Kentucky has an implied consent law that requires drivers to submit to a chemical test if they are suspected of driving under the influence. If a driver refuses to take a chemical test, their driver's license will be suspended until the case is resolved.

If you refuse a test, your refusal can also be used as evidence against you in court, you will not be able to obtain a hardship license, and you may face a higher minimum jail sentence if you are convicted of DUI.

Per Se Blood Alcohol Concentration Limit

Kentucky has a per se blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of .08%. This means that if a driver has a BAC of .08% or higher, they are considered legally impaired and can be charged with DUI.

However, your BAC doesn’t have to be this high to be charged. If your BAC is between .04% and .08%, you can still be charged with DUI if there is other evidence of you being impaired.

Enhanced Penalties for High BAC

In Kentucky, drivers who are found to have a BAC of .15% or higher can face enhanced penalties if they are convicted of DUI. These penalties may include higher fines, longer license suspensions, and mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device.

Zero Tolerance Law for Underage Drivers

Kentucky has a zero-tolerance law for drivers under the age of 21. This means that any driver under 21 with a BAC of .02% or higher can be charged with DUI.

Open Container Law

Kentucky has an open container law that prohibits drivers and passengers from possessing an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a motor vehicle. Violations of this law can result in fines and other penalties.

Aggravated DUI

In Kentucky, drivers who are charged with DUI and have a previous DUI conviction within the past ten years or who have a passenger under the age of twelve in the vehicle at the time of the offense can be charged with aggravated DUI. Aggravated DUI is a more serious offense than a standard DUI charge and carries harsher penalties.

Child Endangerment

If a driver is charged with DUI and has a passenger under the age of 16 in the vehicle at the time of the offense, they can also be charged with child endangerment. This is a separate offense from DUI and can result in additional fines and penalties.

Ignition Interlock Devices

In Kentucky, judges have the discretion to order the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) for certain DUI offenders. An IID is a device that requires the driver to pass a breathalyzer test before the vehicle can be started. The use of IIDs is mandatory for some repeat offenders and for drivers who have a BAC of .15% or higher.

Kentucky Ignition Interlock Program

If a driver is convicted of DUI and chooses to enroll in the Kentucky Ignition Interlock Program, their suspension period may be reduced.

To qualify for this program, individuals must be violation-free for 90 or 120 consecutive days, depending on their original offense.

What Are the Penalties for a DUI in Kentucky?

The penalties for DUI offenses in Kentucky vary depending on the severity of the offense and the number of previous convictions. Penalties are most lenient for first-time offenders and increase in severity for subsequent offenses.

Here is an overview of the penalties for DUI offenses in Kentucky.

First Offense

First-time offenders may be subject to the following penalties:

  • A fine of $200 to $500

  • A jail sentence of up to 30 days

  • A license suspension of up to six months

  • Completion of an alcohol or substance abuse program

Second Offense

For a second DUI conviction within a 10-year period, drivers may be subject to these penalties:

  • A fine of $350 to $500

  • A jail sentence of up to six months

  • A license suspension of 12 to 18 months

  • Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) for 12 months

  • Completion of an alcohol or substance abuse program

Third Offense

If you are charged with a third DUI within a 10-year period, the following penalties may apply:

  • A fine of $500 to $1,000

  • A jail sentence of 30 days to 12 months

  • A license suspension of 24 to 36 months

  • Installation of an IID for 30 months

  • Completion of an alcohol or substance abuse program

Fourth Offense or More

For four or more offenses in a 10-year period, DUI charges are upgraded to felonies and carry much harsher penalties, including:

  • A class D felony charge

  • A fine of $1,000 to $10,000

  • A prison sentence of up to 5 years

  • A license suspension of 60 months

  • Installation of an IID for 60 months

  • Completion of an alcohol or substance abuse program

In addition to the above penalties, those convicted of DUI may also be required to perform community service, attend a victim impact panel, or participate in drug or alcohol treatment programs.

Kentucky Dram Shop Liability Insurance Requirements

Dram shop liability laws determine whether or not an establishment that serves alcohol can be held liable if an intoxicated patron causes an accident that results in injuries or death.

In Kentucky, establishments that serve alcohol, such as bars and restaurants, may be held liable for injuries caused by their patrons if they continue to serve alcohol to someone who is clearly intoxicated or under the age of 21. However, if the patron is over 21, the establishment cannot be held liable unless the bartender or server should have reasonably been able to tell that the customer was already intoxicated.

Dram shop liability insurance can protect establishments by covering legal fees and other costs if they are sued by the victim of a drunk driving accident. However, there is no established minimum coverage that businesses are required to have in Kentucky.

How Much Can Someone Sue For a Drunk Driving Injury in Kentucky?

If you have been injured by a drunk driver in Kentucky, you may be entitled to compensation. The amount of compensation you can receive will depend on several factors, including the severity of your injuries, the cost of your medical treatment, and the impact the injuries have had on your life. 

In Kentucky, there is no limit on the amount of damages that can be awarded in a personal injury lawsuit, including those related to drunk driving accidents. However, it is important to note that Kentucky does have a comparative negligence law, which means that the amount of damages awarded may be reduced if the injured party was partially at fault for the accident.

There are two main types of damages, including economic and noneconomic damages.

Economic damages include things with a clear monetary value, like medical bills and lost wages. These damages are often easy to prove using receipts, pay stubs, and similar documents.

Noneconomic damages include things like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of companionship. Since these don’t have a specific monetary value, they can be more difficult to prove in court.

The Statute of Limitations in Kentucky

If you have been injured by a drunk driver in Kentucky, acting quickly to protect your rights is important. Kentucky has a statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits, including those related to drunk driving accidents. 

For most personal injury cases, the statute of limitations in Kentucky is one year. However, for car accident injury lawsuits, the statute of limitations is two years, giving victims of drunk driving accidents extra time to file a lawsuit.

It’s important to act as soon as possible after an accident, as once the statute of limitations passes, you’ll lose your right to sue for damages in civil court.

There are a few exceptions to this. First, if the victim is under 18 or declared legally incapacitated, they have one year to file a lawsuit after they turn 18 or are no longer incapacitated. Second, if the defendant leaves Kentucky during the period in which the lawsuit can be filed, or if the defendant makes deliberate attempts to conceal themselves, then the period of absence does not count toward the filing period.

Resources for Folks Injured by an Impaired Driver in Kentucky

Car accidents can lead to severe injuries, costly medical bills, extended time off from work, and extensive property damage. Victims need to act quickly to recover damages before it’s too late.

If you or someone you know has been injured by an impaired driver in Kentucky, there are resources available to help you. Here are some organizations that may be able to provide assistance:

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)

MADD is a national organization that provides support to victims of drunk driving accidents and works to raise awareness about the dangers of drunk driving. They offer a variety of resources and support services, including a 24-hour victim helpline, emotional support services, and legal support services.


Kentucky State Police

The Kentucky State Police can provide assistance and information to victims of drunk driving accidents. They can also provide information about the legal process and connect victims with local resources and support services.


Kentucky Justice Association

The Kentucky Justice Association is a professional organization for trial lawyers in Kentucky. They offer resources and support to victims of personal injury accidents, including those related to drunk driving. They can provide referrals to experienced personal injury attorneys in your area who can help you pursue compensation for your injuries.


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