Kentucky DUI Laws & Penalties for Drunk Driving Accidents

Kentucky DUI Laws & Penalties for Drunk Driving Accidents

Know what to do if you’re injured by a drunk driver in the Bluegrass State

DUI kills. And that’s not the only thing that can go wrong. There are strict penalties, plus the victim is usually owed money for medical and other expenses by a drunk driver.
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Drunk driving causes pain. For everyone. When a person chooses to drink and drive, they put their own safety at risk, along with the safety of every other road user.

But that’s not all.

If you cause an accident while you’re driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you can be responsible for any accident-related expenses for someone you’ve injured — in addition to criminal penalties.

Kentucky drunk driving statistics

The Kentucky State Police reported 122 fatal alcohol-related collisions in 2019 and 140 individual fatalities.

There were also:

  • 425 suspected serious injuries
  • 913 suspected minor injuries
  • 958 possible injuries
Facing factsThe total number of injuries reported for alcohol-related accidents on Kentucky roads in 2019 was 2,431.

In 2019, there were 233 teenage drivers involved in alcohol-related collisions, 4 of which were fatalities. What’s more, 34% of pedestrian fatalities over the age of 15 involved a pedestrian who was drinking.

What’s “too drunk to drive?”

If you’ve been drinking, don’t drive.

The legal limit for alcohol consumption is a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08%. However, there’s no way to know your exact BAC because it’s affected by several factors. The only ways to accurately test BAC are using a breath test (commonly called a “Breathalyzer,” which is usually used by law enforcement), or a urine or blood test.

Your BAC can be affected by:

  • How much alcohol you drank
  • How quickly you drank
  • Your body weight
  • Altitude
  • The amount you’ve eaten, amount of time since you ate, and what you ate
  • Your biological gender
  • Type of alcohol
  • Other medications and medical conditions
  • Alcohol tolerance
  • Fatigue, stress, and mood

Many of the factors that affect BAC are variable (food, level of stress, medications, etc.), so the only way to guarantee that you’re within the legal BAC limit is not to drink any alcohol before you drive.

There are standard drink sizes in the U.S., and you might be able to somewhat predict your BAC based on the number of drinks consumed. The CDC says 14 grams of pure alcohol is the approximate amount a 160-pound man would need to drink in an hour in order to reach the BACs listed below.

A standard drink is:

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol)
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces (1 shot) of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (40% alcohol)

Kentucky DUI Laws

You may not drive a vehicle if you:

  • Have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or higher (or .04% if you’re driving a commercial vehicle)
  • Are under the influence of any controlled substance, alcohol, or any combination that impairs your ability to drive
  • Have any listed illicit substances including cocaine and methamphetamine in your blood.

If your BAC is above .08% and you are driving, you can be convicted of DUI in Kentucky regardless of how impaired you are.

Kentucky DUI penalties

If you’re convicted of a Kentucky DUI offense, possible penalties include jail time, fines, treatment programs, license revocation, and mandated use of an ignition interlock device (IID). What punishments may be issued depends on the nature and number of the offense.

1st offense
  • 48 hours to 30 days of jail time
  • $200 to $500 fine
  • At least 90 days in a treatment program
  • 30 to 120 days of license revocation
  • 6 months of IID
2nd offense
  • 7 days to 6 months of jail time
  • $350 to $500 fine
  • 1 year in a treatment program
  • 12 to 18 months of license revocation
  • 12 months of IID
3rd offense (or more)
  • 30 days to 12 months of jail time
  • $500 to $1,000 fine
  • 1 year of residential or inpatient substance abuse treatment
  • 24 to 36 months of license revocation
  • 30 months of IID
Aggravating circumstances:

  • Excessive speed
  • Passenger under 12 years old
  • Alcohol test refusal
  • BAC of .15% or higher
Double the minimum jail time
Driver with .18% or higher
  • At least 4 days in jail for the first offense
  • A judge could order community service in addition to other penalties for any DUI offense.

Criminal vs. civil liability for a DUI

The penalties set forth for a drunk driver are criminal consequences you could face for a DUI offense. They are separate from civil liability.

Civil liability is what you owe another person if your actions resulted in their injuries. A plaintiff (injured person) is entitled to be made financially whole after an accident. In other words, the defendant must pay the plaintiff the amount of money it takes to restore them to the financial condition they would be in if the accident had not happened.

Kentucky is a no-fault state. That means each person relies first on their own car insurance to cover the cost of their injuries, regardless of who was at fault.

However, if your injuries are severe, cost more than $10,000 for treatment, or your policy doesn’t cover the full extent of your damages, you can file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

If you were injured by a drunk driver, the criminal consequences might provide you with the satisfaction that justice has been served. But the only way to recover financially is by filing a civil lawsuit with the help of a car accident lawyer.

You typically have 2 years from the date of the accident, the date of your final no-fault insurance payment, or your last car insurance claim payment in which to file a lawsuit. However, you should file a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible after a crash as insurance companies have their own deadlines and can refuse to pay your claim if you wait too long to file.

Damages for a Kentucky drunk driving crash

Insurance will only cover certain economic damages, which are specific costs associated with the accident.

These costs can include:

  • Medical treatment, including doctor or hospital visits, prescription medications, diagnostics like X-rays or MRI, surgeries, and other care
  • Assistive devices and ongoing therapies related to the injury
  • Property loss, such as replacing a totaled vehicle

If your expenses include other things, you can file a lawsuit to recover these costs—including:

  • Present or future lost wages or reduced earning capacity
  • Funeral expenses, if you’ve lost a family member in the accident

Finally, an insurance payout won’t include non-economic losses, like pain and suffering or other emotional distress. In order to recover compensation for those injuries, you need to file a personal injury lawsuit.

Kentucky pure comparative negligence standard

A Kentucky plaintiff might not be able to recover 100% of their damages if they were found to be partially liable for the accident. Your amount of liability would reduce a damage award by that percentage.

Here’s an example of how it works:

You are driving home from work late at night when a car, seemingly out of nowhere, approaches heading the wrong direction in your lane.

Your car collides head-on with the other vehicle. It turns out that the other driver was over the legal limit for alcohol. However, the accident investigation shows that you were driving 10 miles above the speed limit for that stretch of road.

You sue the drunk driver for $100,000.

Even though the drunk driver clearly caused the accident by being in the wrong lane, a Kentucky court could find that you were partially liable because of your speed. If you had been driving the proper speed limit, they argue, you would have had more time to react and swerve out of the way to avoid the collision.

Therefore, the court reduces your award by 10% to account for what it determines to be your percent of liability. So the total amount of damages you are eligible for is $90,000.

Evidence in a drunk driving crash

If you’re in a crash and suspect that the driver is drunk, it’s imperative that evidence is gathered quickly. The drunk driver is going to become sober as time passes, and then it might be impossible to prove fault on that basis.

Here’s what your lawyer will look for as evidence:

  • Police reports with BAC test results or visual evidence of drunkenness
  • Audio or video footage from the officer’s body camera or dashcam
  • Witness statements
  • Surveillance video from nearby homes or businesses
  • Statements from the driver and passengers
  • Accident reconstruction reports from experts

Kentucky dram shop laws and social host liability

Kentucky state law holds that an alcohol vendor is not liable for a patron’s injury to another person, except if, “a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances should know that the person served is already intoxicated at the time of serving.”

However, the vendor can be held liable if the person whose drunkenness causes an injury is underage. This law only applies to a vendor licensed to serve alcohol (that is, not a private person who serves alcohol in their home).

Kentucky does not have a social host law that would hold a private person liable for the actions of a guest who becomes intoxicated by being served alcohol at their home.

If you need to file a dram shop claim against a Kentucky business, you have 1 year from the date of the accident in which to do so.

Signs that another driver might be under the influence

  • Quick acceleration or deceleration
  • Swerving, weaving, or zig-zagging
  • Abrupt or illegal turns
  • Tailgating
  • Driving outside the designated roadway (i.e. on a sidewalk or grass)
  • Driving too slowly
  • “Near misses” with objects, vehicles or curbs
  • Signaling is inconsistent with action
  • Delayed response to traffic signals
  • Straddling center lane marker
  • Driving without headlights in the dark
  • Erratic braking or stopping for no reason

What to do if you spot a drunk driver

  1. Stay away. Your best defensive move is to keep as much distance as possible between your vehicle and theirs.
  2. Don’t try to pass or flag them down. Don’t draw attention to yourself. A drunk person might not be able to handle even a small distraction. Trying to get them to pull over, or trying to pass, might increase the risk of a crash.
  3. Get information. If you’re able to get the license plate number, vehicle make and model, or any other distinguishing information about the car or driver, take note if you can do so safely.
  4. Call 911. A drunk driver (or any driver who’s driving erratically, recklessly, or otherwise unsafely) is in an emergency situation. Call 911 and report where you see the vehicle, what direction the vehicle is heading, and any other information that might assist in apprehending the driver.

Consult a Kentucky car accident lawyer

There are several reasons why a drunk driving accident can be more complicated than other types of crashes.

First, you might be called to testify as a witness in a drunk driver’s criminal proceeding. In this case, you’ll want to get the advice of a lawyer in order to preserve your own legal rights so you don’t compromise your own ability to receive compensation through a civil lawsuit.

Second, drunk driving accidents often result in catastrophic or long-lasting injuries. Your insurance settlement should cover immediate medical expenses. But if you’re going to require ongoing treatment or therapy, or if you’re left with a disability that will affect you in the future, you need a lawyer to make sure that all of your current and future expenses will be covered.

If you need a lawyer, you can use the Enjuris law firm directory to find a Kentucky lawyer who can help you receive compensation for your drunk driving accident injuries.


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