Pennsylvania DUI Laws: Legal Limits and Sentencing Guidelines

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A DUI in Pennsylvania — driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs — is a serious offense that carries substantial legal penalties. If you're caught driving above the legal blood alcohol limit of .08, you may face a suspended license, fines and even jail time. The consequences for a DUI in PA also increase based on how much alcohol is in your blood and how many DUIs you have previously received.

DUI penalties in Pennsylvania

Driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs comes with serious penalties in Pennsylvania. Possible consequences include a fine, suspension of your license and even jail time. The repercussions you'll face depend primarily on whether you've gotten a previous DUI and how high your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was when you were pulled over.

Drivers who cause accidents that injure others or cause property damage can be subject to much higher penalties. Injuring someone while under the influence of alcohol in PA may be a felony, and typically results in a years-long jail sentence.

Another consequence of getting a DUI in Pennsylvania is much higher auto insurance rates. Drivers in Pennsylvania are not required to get an SR-22 proof of insurance form as a condition of license reinstatement after a DUI. However, you are still likely to pay much more for car insurance than someone without a DUI, as having a DUI on your record puts you in a higher risk category to insurers. It's even possible your insurance company may cancel your policy after you're convicted.

First-time DUI offense

Even a first DUI offense in Pennsylvania can carry with it serious consequences. Depending on a driver's blood alcohol content, they can face fines between $300 and $5,000, and may face a license suspension as well.

All first-time DUI offenders are also ordered to enroll in alcohol highway safety classes and may be required to attend sobriety treatment, if ordered by a judge.

Consequences for a first-time DUI offense

BACInfraction levelLicense suspensionJail timeFine
.08-.099Ungraded misdemeanorNone6 months probation$300 fine
.1-.159Ungraded misdemeanor12 month license suspension48 hours to 6 months prison$500 to $5,000 fine
.16+, under influence of drugs, or refusal to testUngraded misdemeanor12 month license suspension72 hours to 6 months prison$1,000 to $5,000 fine
All first-time DUI offenders are required to attend DUI safety school, and may be required to undergo substance abuse treatment when ordered.

ARD: Pretrial intervention for first-time offenders

First-time DUI offenders may be eligible for Pennsylvania's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. Under this pretrial program, the consequences of a DUI are focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Opting for an ARD sentence may result in a lessened fine or lower license suspension time, among others. Additionally, drivers may have their conviction expunged from their criminal record after successful completion of the program.

However, an ARD may not be right for every driver, even if they are eligible. For example, agreeing to an ARD program will result in a driver's commercial driver's license (CDL) being suspended for a year. Only a lawyer should recommend whether accepting a plea under this program is right for your situation.

Second offense

Second-time DUI offenders are subject to stricter punishment under Pennsylvania law. Fine levels are increased, and you are guaranteed to have your license suspended. For their second DUI, drivers in PA will also be required to have an ignition interlock on their car for one year, which prevents them from driving if their BAC is over a certain — very low — limit.

Consequences for a second-time DUI offense

BACInfraction levelLicense suspensionJail timeFineIgnition interlock
.08-.1Ungraded misdemeanor12 month license suspension5 days to 6 months jail time$300 to $2,500 fine1 year ignition interlock
.1-.159Ungraded misdemeanor12 month license suspension30 days to 6 months prison$750 to $5,000 fine1 year ignition interlock
.16+, under influence of drugs, or refusal to test1st degree misdemeanor18 month license suspension90 days to 5 years prison$1,500 to $10,00 fine1 year ignition interlock
All second-time DUI offenders are required to attend DUI safety school, and may be required to undergo substance abuse treatment when ordered.

Third offense

Third-time DUI offenders are more likely to pay a hefty fine than their first or second time getting a DUI in Pennsylvania. But similarly to a second offense, the fines for a third DUI can reach up to $10,000.

Additionally, a third DUI with a BAC over .16 or under the influence of drugs is considered a third-degree felony, with a minimum jail time of one year.

Consequences for a third-time DUI offense

BACInfraction levelLicense suspensionJail timeFineIgnition interlock
.08-.12nd degree misdemeanor12 month license suspension10 days to 2 years prison$500 to $5,000 fine1 year ignition interlock
.1-.1591st degree misdemeanor18 month license suspension90 days to 5 years prison$1,500 to $10,000 fine1 year ignition interlock
.16+, under influence of drugs, or refusal to test3rd degree felony18 month license suspension1 to 7 years prison$2,500 to $10,0001 year ignition interlock
Three-time DUI offenders may be required to undergo substance abuse treatment when ordered.

Fourth and later offenses

Starting in 2019, a fourth DUI or later is automatically a felony in Pennsylvania, regardless of how intoxicated you are. You're also guaranteed a license suspension of 18 months and a long jail sentence if you have a BAC of over .10.

Consequences for a fourth DUI offense and later

BACInfraction levelLicense suspensionJail timeFineIgnition interlock
.08-.13rd degree felony18 month license suspension10 days to 7 years prison$500 to $15,0001 year ignition interlock
.1-.1593rd degree felony18 month license suspension1 to 7 years prison$1,500 to $15,0001 year ignition interlock
.16+, under influence of drugs, or refusal to test3rd degree felony18 month license suspension1 to 7 years prison$2,500 to $15,0001 year ignition interlock
Four-time DUI offenders may be required to undergo substance abuse treatment when ordered.

Increased penalties for connected offenses such as fatalities

Besides the consequences of simply being caught driving while under the influence of alcohol, Pennsylvania also has severe punishments for people who cause accidents while intoxicated.

For example, if a driver unintentionally kills someone while committing a DUI, they are guilty of a second-degree felony and will serve a minimum of three years. If the driver already has a prior DUI conviction, they are guilty of a first-degree felony and will be imprisoned for at least five years.

What is the legal limit for a DUI?

In Pennsylvania, the minimum BAC for a DUI is 0.08%, commonly written as .08. This is the minimum BAC for a DUI in almost every state; however, Pennsylvania uses a tiered DUI system — the higher your blood alcohol content, the more severe the punishment.

Blood Alcohol Level (BAC)Classification
0.08 to .099%General impairment
0.10 to .159%High rate DUI
0.16%+, refuse test, or under influence of other drugsHighest rate DUI

Pennsylvania is an implied consent state: According to PA law, drivers have agreed to chemical alcohol testing as a condition of receiving a driver's license. As a result, drivers who refuse a chemical test (either blood, urine or breathalyzer) receive the same punishment as drivers who have the highest BAC rating.

The highest DUI classification is also applied to drivers who drive under the influence of other drugs.

DUI limits for drivers under 21

Drivers who are under 21 years of age are considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol if they test higher than a 0.02% BAC. This means an under-21 driver who has had just one beer could be subject to the same penalties as a driver over 21 who has had three or more drinks.

The financial risk of a DUI is even higher for young drivers. Besides simply paying more for insurance overall, drivers under 21 also see the biggest increase in car insurance rates after getting a DUI.

The information in this article is accurate as of the date of publishing.

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