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Legal Alcohol Limits Explained

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A state’s legal alcohol limit refers to the blood alcohol content or blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level someone can have before being charged with a DWI (driving while intoxicated) or DUI (driving under the influence).

Every state has a legal limit of at least 0.08% for drivers 21 and older. Many states have a zero-tolerance alcohol limit for drivers under 21 who aren’t old enough to legally consume alcohol.

There are general guidelines for how many drinks someone can have before reaching a BAC of 0.08%, but everyone metabolizes alcohol at a different rate. Blood alcohol calculators and charts can only estimate BAC levels.

Also, keep in mind that BAC does not refer to a specific number of drinks. 

Additionally, you can be charged with a DUI if there is any trace of alcohol or drugs in your system. This means you can lose your driver’s license, face financial penalties, and possibly spend time in jail. 

DUI goes on your driving record and can result in commercial vehicle drivers losing their jobs. DUI laws vary, but even with a first offense, you might be required to install an ignition interlock device and endure long-term penalties.

What Is the Legal Alcohol Limit to Drive?

The legal BAC in every state is 0.08% or below. This means your BAC cannot exceed 0.08% regardless of where you’re driving. The legal blood alcohol content for commercial drivers is even lower at 0.04%. 

Driving with a BAC outside the legal limit can result in drunk driving charges.

These limits mean that if your BAC is higher than the legal limit you are automatically guilty of a DWI or DUI crime. This is called “per se” intoxication. In these cases, a police officer can arrest you even if you were committing no other crime at the time. 

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What States Have a Zero-Tolerance Policy?

Some states have implemented zero tolerance laws. These laws make it illegal for any driver under 21 to drive with a BAC over 0.00%. They cannot drive after drinking any alcoholic beverages. 

For many people, a BAC of 0.01% or 0.02% would have little bearing on their ability to drive. Most adults can have a small amount of alcohol without impairing their ability to drive.

However, it is illegal for drivers younger than 21 to possess or drink alcohol. Even if a driver could argue that their alcohol consumption did not impair their driving ability, if they are under 21, they will be charged with a crime.

States with zero tolerance DWI laws include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington, DC
  • Wisconsin

How Many Drinks Does it Take to Reach 0.08% BAC?

BAC charts are estimates. Everyone is different and their bodies metabolize alcohol differently. Three drinks might not affect one person’s driving ability, but the same amount might leave someone else completely unable to function.

You should refer to BAC estimates as a guideline. It’s impossible to know exactly what your BAC will be based on the number of drinks you consume. Furthermore, everyone’s alcohol tolerance is different. Some people function better than others with a higher BAC.

Also remember, alcohol can mix with prescription medications, causing impaired judgment and driving ability even with low BAC levels. 

The only true way to ensure you are not driving impaired and/or will not be charged with a DWI crime is to completely abstain from alcohol before driving. 

Keep in mind: Different types of alcohol have different ABV levels (alcohol by volume). Don’t rely on general BAC estimates when deciding whether or not to drive after drinking. 

The following are estimations of what someone’s BAC could be after a certain number of drinks. One drink equals 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, 12 ounces of 5% beer, or five ounces of 12% wine.

100 Pound Body Weight

Male

  • 1 Drink: 0.06%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.12%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.18%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.24%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.30%

Female

  • 1 Drink: 0.07%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.13%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.20%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.26%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.33%

120 Pound Body Weight

Male

  • 1 Drink: 0.05%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.10%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.15%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.20%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.25%

Female

  • 1 Drink: 0.06%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.11%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.17%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.22%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.28%

140 Pound Body Weight

Male

  • 1 Drink: 0.04%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.09%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.13%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.17%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.21%

Female

  • 1 Drink: 0.05%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.09%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.14%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.17%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.21%

160 Pound Body Weight

Male

  • 1 Drink: 0.04%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.07%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.11%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.15%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.19%

Female

  • 1 Drink: 0.04%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.08%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.12%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.17%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.21%

180 Pound Body Weight

Male

  • 1 Drink: 0.03%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.07%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.10%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.13%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.17%

Female

  • 1 Drink: 0.04%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.07%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.11%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.15%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.18%

200 Pound Body Weight

Male

  • 1 Drink: 0.03%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.06%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.09%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.12%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.15%

Female

  • 1 Drink: 0.03%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.07%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.10%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.13%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.17%

220 Pound Body Weight

Male

  • 1 Drink: 0.03%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.05%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.08%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.11%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.14%

Female

  • 1 Drink: 0.03%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.06%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.09%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.12%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.15%

240 Pound Body Weight

Male

  • 1 Drink: 0.02%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.05%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.07%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.10%
  • 5 Drinks: 0.12%

Female

  • 1 Drink: 0.03%
  • 2 Drinks: 0.06%
  • 3 Drinks: 0.08%
  • 4 Drinks: 0.11%

5 Drinks: 0.14%

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Updated on September 23, 2022
6 sources cited
  1. Stim, Richard. “Blood Alcohol Level Chart: Are You Too Drunk to Legally Drive?” Dui.drivinglaws.org, Nolo, 7 Jul. 2010.
  2. Just What Are ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policies - and Are They Still Common?” UMBC Magazine, 14 Feb. 2019.
  3. Carpenter, Christopher. “How Do Zero Tolerance Drunk Driving Laws Work?” Journal of Health Economics, vol. 23, no. 1, Jan. 2004, pp. 61–83, 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2003.08.005.
  4. Blood Alcohol Content.” www.utoledo.edu.
  5. What Is BAC? | Office of Substance Use Programs Education & Resources.” Super.stanford.edu.
  6. Blood Alcohol Level: MedlinePlus Lab Test Information.” Medlineplus.gov, 2017.

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