Pennsylvania DUI Glossary

There are many terms used by law enforcement officials and the court system that can be confusing for people who are facing DUI charges, especially for the first time. The Law Offices of Steven E. Kellis hopes that this information will be useful to you. Here are some common terms used in drunk driving cases and their definitions.

Absorption Phase – This is the process by which a person’s body completely absorbs alcohol, which can last anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours.

BAC – This is an abbreviation for blood alcohol concentration or content. State laws regarding DUI are often based on the level of one’s BAC when operating a motor vehicle.

Breathalyzer or Breathalyser – This device is a machine that law enforcement officers use to measure a driver’s BAC. It can be a handheld device used at the scene of a traffic stop, or a stationary machine used at police stations.

DUI – An abbreviation for driving under the influence, DUI refers to operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, whether legal or illegal.

DWI – This abbreviation generally refers to driving while intoxicated or impaired. DWI is often used interchangeably with the term DUI.

Field Sobriety Tests – These are tests used by law enforcement officers to measure a driver’s mental and/or physical coordination during a traffic stop. Field sobriety tests are often the first step that an officer takes in determining whether a driver is driving under the influence. These tests have been standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and include walking in a straight line, touching the heel of each foot to the toe of the other foot, tilting one’s head back with eyes closed and touching one’s nose with an index finger, saying the alphabet, and horizontal gaze nystagmus, which involves following a stimulus to the side with one’s eyes.

Ignition Interlock Device or Vehicle Lock – These are devices that courts sometimes require people who are convicted of DUI to install on their vehicles in order to drive them. These devices prevent vehicles from starting if a breath test reveals that a driver is under the influence of alcohol, as defined by his or her BAC.

Implied Consent – This is a legal concept stating that all drivers automatically consent to BAC tests, whether through a breathalyzer or blood test, simply due to the fact that they have obtained driver’s licenses.

Occupational Limited License – This is a temporary type of driver’s license that some drivers are eligible for while their driver’s licenses are suspended for DUI. This license allows a person to drive back and forth to work.

Probable Cause – A law enforcement officer must have probable cause, or a legally valid reason, to stop a vehicle, question a driver, and arrested him or her. If an officer does not have probable cause in making a traffic stop, then any evidence obtained during the stop will be suppressed, or not able to be used in court.

Sobriety Checkpoints – These are roadblocks set up by law enforcement authorities in order to target impaired drivers. All drivers passing through the checkpoint will be screened for impaired driving.