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Last updated: January 10, 2024

Guide to North Carolina DWIs

Driving while impaired can lead to fines, license revocations, and even jail time.

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The state of North Carolina defines a DWI (driving while impaired) as driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit of 0.08 percent or having any Schedule 1 drug or metabolites in your blood or urine. For commercial drivers, the BAC limit is even lower at 0.04 percent, according to the state’s General Statutes 90-89.

What happens if you’re caught by a police officer, given a DWI assessment, and convicted of a DWI in North Carolina? We’ll go over all of the penalties you can expect, plus how the conviction will affect your car insurance.


North Carolina has five levels of DWI that fall under misdemeanors and one charge that falls under a felony for habitual violators.1 Regardless of the classification, driving while impaired is dangerous and leads to harsh penalties from the state government.

Penalties for Driving While Impaired

Here are the DWI penalties in North Carolina for someone driving a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher.2 North Carolina DWI laws dictate that someone with a prior DWI conviction will face harsher penalties for a subsequent offense.

Status and consequence by DWI charge Level V misdemeanor Level IV misdemeanor Level III misdemeanor Level II misdemeanor Level I misdemeanor Felony DWI
Prior DWI conviction, revoked license, impaired drivers, impaired drivers transporting young children or who have hurt someone in a crash No No No Yes Yes Yes — habitual offenders with four DWI convictions within past 10 years
Maximum fine $200 $500 $1,000 $2,000 $4,000 n/a
Jail time One to 60 days Two to 60 days Three days to 6 months One week one year 30 days to two years One-year minimum, cannot be suspended
Jail time can be the minimum with community service or driving privileges revoked? Yes Yes Yes No No No
Community service in days needed to have minimum jail time One day Two days Three days n/a n/a n/a
Length of suspended driving privileges in days needed to have minimum jail time 30 60 90 n/a n/a n/a
Completion of substance abuse assessment/recommended treatment to reinstate license No No No Yes Yes Yes, while in jail or as a condition of parole
Seizure/forfeiture of vehicles No No No No No Yes, vehicle will be seized at time of arrest if the person was driving on a revoked license from a previous impaired driving offense. Vehicle forfeited if convicted. Can only get car back if they were not convicted of DWI and have been proven innocent.
Length of suspension/revocation One year One year One year First offense: One year

Second offense: Four years

Third or subsequent offense: Permanent

First offense: One year

Second offense: Four years

Third or subsequent offense: Permanent

Length of ignition interlock device requirement when license is restored One year One year One year First offense: One year

Second offense: Three years

Third and subsequent: Seven years

First offense: One year

Second offense: Three years

Third and subsequent: Seven years

Seven years

Underage Drinkers

North Carolina has a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under age 21, which means it is illegal for them to have any alcohol or illegal drugs in their systems while driving. Even if they refuse to take alcohol and drug tests, breath that smells of alcohol is sufficient evidence for a conviction and will result in a 30-day license revocation.

For those who took a test and had drugs or alcohol in their systems, their license will be revoked for one year. However, if they were 18 or older at the time of the arrest and had no prior convictions, they can get limited driving privileges during this time for essential purposes, such as any of the following:

  • Community service required for probation
  • Court-ordered treatment/assessment
  • Education for high school or college students
  • Emergency medical care
  • Employment
  • Maintaining a household
  • Religious worship

How Long a DWI Stays on Your Record

In North Carolina, a DWI conviction will remain on your record permanently. While many nonviolent misdemeanors can be expunged, convictions for traffic violations related to alcohol are excluded from this rule.3

Are SR-22s Required?

SR-22s, certificates that prove you have the minimum amount of insurance that the state requires, are not a requirement in North Carolina upon license revocation.

The Cost of Car Insurance With DWIs

On average, you can expect your North Carolina car insurance rates after a DWI to rise by 324 percent on average. Prices can rise from $769 for someone with a clean record to $3,261 with a DWI conviction.

Full Coverage

Full-coverage insurance means you purchase the state’s minimum requirements, plus collision, comprehensive, and medical payments coverage. These additional coverages pay for your property damages and medical costs after an accident, plus those of your passengers.

Insurance company Cost of full coverage car insurance with clean record Cost of full coverage car insurance with DWI conviction
Erie $870 $2,571
GEICO $1,008 $3,925
Nationwide $1,109 $2,594
North Carolina Farm Bureau $895 $2,413
Progressive $1,426 $4,502
State Farm $893 $2,605

Minimum Coverage

Minimum coverage is the cheapest option, even with a DUI on your record, but this level of insurance means you’d be responsible for your party’s damages out of pocket in the event of an accident.

Insurance company Cost of minimum coverage car insurance with clean record Cost of minimum coverage car insurance with DWI
Allstate $1,132 $2,124
Erie $353 $1,574
GEICO $450 $2,074
Nationwide $311 $1,234
North Carolina Farm Bureau $376 $1,512
Progressive $547 $2,095
State Farm $370 $1,457

Finding the Best Car Insurance

Finding affordable car insurance in North Carolina after a DWI is difficult, but the state has safeguards in place that can guarantee you coverage.

Cheapest Companies

Based on our proprietary data, here are the cheapest companies that offer full-coverage insurance after a DWI in North Carolina.

  • North Carolina Farm Bureau: $2,413 per year

Alternatively, see below for minimum coverage after a DWI conviction.

  • Nationwide: $1,234 per year

High-Risk Driver Program

Have you shopped the entire market but can’t find a company that will give you affordable car insurance? North Carolina requires insurance companies to place you in the reinsurance pool, meaning you’re guaranteed coverage within the following limits.4

Coverage Minimum limit per person Minimum limit per accident Maximum limit per person Maximum limit per accident
Bodily injury liability $30,000 $60,000 $10,000 $300,000
Property damage liability $25,000 $25,000 $50,000 $50,000
Medical payments coverage (not available for motorcycles) $1,000 $1,000 $2,000 n/a
Underinsured motorist bodily injury liability coverage n/a n/a $1,000,000 $1,000,000
Uninsured bodily injury liability coverage n/a n/a $1,000,000 $1,000,000
Uninsured property damage liability coverage (includes a $100 deductible) n/a n/a $50,000 $50,000


In North Carolina in 2021, 16 percent of all fatal crashes involved motorcycles despite motorcycles making up only 6 percent of all registered vehicles, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration.5

While you can buy medical payments (MedPay) coverage for motorcycles through the private market, you will not be able to purchase MedPay for motorcycle insurance if you use this reinsurance pool.

How to Save Money on Car Insurance

  1. Buy only the coverages you need. At a minimum this includes liability coverage.
  2. If you buy collision or comprehensive coverage, raise your deductible to an amount you can comfortably pay in the event of an emergency.
  3. Ask your insurance agent or broker for discounts.
  4. Drive safely.
  5. Take a defensive driving course.
  6. Bundle multiple policies under the same provider.
  7. Insure all of your vehicles under the same provider.
  8. Use pay-per-mile insurance if you have a low average miles driven per year.


If you’re one of the 27 percent of North Carolina drivers with commutes less than 15 minutes long, pay-per-mile insurance could save you money. However, avoid it if you’re part of the 20 percent with commutes of 35 minutes or longer.6


Finding the best auto insurance after a DWI isn’t easy, but it’s never too late to turn your driving record around. Do your research and look for companies that accept high-risk drivers with lower-than-average rates. If all else fails, use the state’s high-risk pool.

DWI in North Carolina Frequently Asked Questions

Can a DWI offense be dropped in North Carolina?

A DWI offense cannot be dropped in North Carolina if you are convicted. A DWI conviction will remain on your driving record permanently. However, you are eligible for expunction if the charge occurred before December 1, 1999, and if any of the following statements are true:

  • The charge was dismissed not pursuant to deferred prosecution or conditional charge.
  • The charge was dismissed pursuant to deferred prosecution or conditional discharge.
  • You were found not guilty/responsible.
  • The charge was dismissed due to mistake identification/identity theft.
  • You were convicted after a pardon of innocence.

According to the North Carolina Judicial Branch, in these cases, you can have the criminal DWI conviction removed from your record.

How do I get out of a DWI in North Carolina?

To get out of a DWI in North Carolina, it’s best to hire a personal DWI attorney. They will investigate the incident and make sure the law enforcement officer had probable cause to pull you over and that they didn’t violate your constitutional rights. If there was a lack of legal suspicion or your rights were violated, the judge may dismiss the case.

The case could also be dismissed if the officer didn’t administer your sobriety test correctly, according to the Knox Law Center based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Can a DWI be reduced in North Carolina?

It is unlikely that a DWI in North Carolina would be reduced to a wet reckless driving charge — in other words, a plea bargain for someone originally charged with a DUI.

What percentage of DWI cases are dismissed in North Carolina?

As of the latest data, 22 percent of DWI cases in North Carolina in 2017 were voluntarily dismissed by the prosecutor, while 8 percent were dismissed with leave. “Dismissed with leave” means they were removed from the court’s docket but the case is still pending and could be reactivated by the prosecutor.


  1. Impaired Driving. NCLEG. (2023).

  2. Driving and Alcohol. North Carolina Department of Public Safety. (2023).

  3. About. North Carolina Judicial Branch. (2023).

  4. A Consumer’s Guide to Automobile Insurance. North Carolina Department of Insurance. (2023).

  5. Highway Statistics Series – Highway Statistics 2021. U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. (2021).

  6. COMMUTING CHARACTERISTICS BY SEX. United States Census. (2023).