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Ohio has always taken a hard stance against alcohol misuse; the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Ohio Anti-Saloon League, two groups that led the crusade for Prohibition, originated in the Cleveland area. In the modern era, the state discourages drinkers from driving while impaired by conducting regular DUI checkpoints. Ohio has used this technique regularly since 1989.

To help you understand Ohio DUI laws and OVI checkpoints, here are 10 helpful facts and tips.

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1. Ohio DUI Laws: The Basics

Ohio refers to a broad category of offenses in its law prohibiting driving under the influence (DUI). Ohio’s primary DUI statute prohibits “[o]perating [a] vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs–OVI.” It specifically references a wide range of intoxicants that may impair a driver, including alcohol, cocaine, heroin, LSD, and “marihuana.” A driver can be convicted of operating a vehicle under the influence if they demonstrate impairment, even if they are within the legal limits for alcohol or have consumed legal drugs.

2. OVI Per Se And OVI: Ohio Rules About Consumption

Like many states, Ohio sets the permissible upper limit for alcohol in an adult driver’s bloodstream (blood alcohol content or BAC) at .08 percent. It has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinkers who drive; a driver under the age of 21 will be charged with operation of a vehicle after underage consumption (OVUAC) if their BAC is .02 percent or higher. If a breathalyzer or blood test reveals a BAC over the legal limit, a driver can be convicted of OVI or OVUAC ‘per se,’ even without evidence of actual impairment.

3. Ohio Defines 'Vehicle' Broadly

You can be ticketed for OVI in nearly any kind of transportation device, including a horse-drawn carriage. According to Ohio’s motor vehicle code, “vehicle” includes any device, including all types of bicycles, that can transport people or property on a highway. It excludes motorized wheelchairs and other types of powered personal assistive mobility devices, and any device other than a bicycle that is moved exclusively by human power.

While the definition includes “trackless” trolleys, it excludes trains, trolleys, and trams that travel on rails or use overhead wires. Because they are not considered “vehicles” by this legal definition, the OVI law also mentions these carriers specifically (it is not legal to operate trains or trolleys while intoxicated!).

4. DUI Checkpoints: Ohio And Federal Courts Allow No-Cause Vehicle Stops

Ordinarily, courts require law enforcement officers to have ‘probable cause’ before they can legally perform a search. In the case of DUI checkpoints, Ohio’s highest court and the U.S. Supreme Court make an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure. The courts justify this exception based on the state’s greater interest in keeping the public safe from impaired drivers.

5. Rules Ensure Checkpoints Minimally Intrude On Drivers' Rights

To minimize the amount of intrusion on drivers’ constitutional rights, Ohio law enforcement agencies established rules for DUI checkpoints. Ohio State Highway Patrol operates sobriety checkpoints in accordance with these guidelines:

  • Checkpoint sites are chosen based on having a long-term history of alcohol-related crashes or incidents of impaired driving
  • The public is notified, generally through the local media, of the general area of the checkpoint the week before it is established and the exact location is publicized a few hours prior to enforcement
  • Officers state clear and established objectives for each checkpoint
  • Checkpoints are clearly marked, visible from a distance, and manned by easily identifiable law enforcement personnel

Depending on how much traffic is on the roadway, every vehicle may not be stopped. The method used to choose which drivers to stop must be non-discriminatory and “uniformly random” (for example, every third vehicle).

6. You Can Turn Around... Sometimes

If you can do so safely and legally, Ohio law allows you to avoid going through a sobriety or license checkpoint. Identifying signs are posted in advance of the checkpoint area; as you approach, you are free to turn down a side street or make a U-turn (if it is legal) to avoid going through.

Don’t just hang a U-ey anywhere, though: If an officer observes a violation such as an expired tag or sees you commit a traffic offense, they have probable cause to pursue and pull over your vehicle. Once they do so, if they suspect you are impaired, they can proceed with the same types of field sobriety testing as they do at the checkpoint.

7. You May Be Asked To Stand On One Leg

Ohio uses the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) standardized field sobriety testing methods. These include:

  • The walk and turn. A driver must walk in a straight line with their feet aligned heel to toe, then turn and repeat
  • The one-legged stand. The driver must stand on one foot, with the other foot a few inches off the ground, and their arms must remain at their sides
  • The alcohol gaze nystagmus exam. The driver must follow a moving object with just their eyes (without moving their head)

Local law enforcement may use other methods to determine whether a driver is impaired. Ohio law also provides that any drivers using the roadways must give their ‘implied consent’ to a breathalyzer test (the official one at the station, not the field breath test). If you refuse to take one after an arrest, your license will be suspended for at least one year.

8. Convictions For Drunk Or Impaired Driving Can Affect International Travel

A DUI conviction, including a conviction for OVI or OVUAC, can prevent you from entering Canada. Buddies going up to Windsor for the weekend? You’ll likely be staying behind. In fact, a conviction for DUI, DWI, or OVI can make traveling to a number of foreign countries difficult or impossible. If you are a foreign national visiting the U.S., a DUI conviction can lead to the revocation of your visa.

9. Checkpoints Can Lead To More Than Just OVI Charges

At DUI checkpoints, Ohio law enforcement officers can also issue other citations if they observe other violations of state laws. Many drivers receive tickets for expired licenses or registrations; others are arrested for outstanding warrants or contraband observed in their vehicle.

10. When You Should Talk To A Lawyer

If you’ve been ticketed or arrested at one of the state’s many DUI checkpoints, Ohio’s severe mandatory sentences for impaired driving can threaten your future. An experienced attorney can help you understand your rights and options to mitigate the effects of an OVI or OVUAC charge.

Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation and should not be interpreted as creating an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions, you should seek the advice of an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

Would you like to learn more about DUI laws and ways to defend yourself after an arrest? Learn more from Jalopnik’s legal team.