Alcohol in Georgia

The legal drinking age in Georgia is 21, as it is in all states, but 18-year-olds are allowed to serve alchohol in restaurants or bars. You can purchase spirits in retail package stores while grocery stores and convenience stores sell beer and wine. While some restaurants and bars can sell alcohol on Sundays, depending on the township, liquor stores are always closed. Most restaurants and bars are allowed to serve alcohol from 6 a.m. until midnight.

Previously opened bottles of alcohol must be transported in a vehicle’s trunk where neither the driver nor passengers have access to the alcohol.

Georgia DUI Laws

In Georgia, the strictest state in the nation for DUI license suspension, 331 people died in alcohol-related traffic accidents in 2009, 32 of them under the age of 21. While this number is alarming, it is in stark contast to the 803 people who died in alcohol related accidents in 1986, long before tougher DUI laws were passed.

In fact, although the total number of traffic fatalities has actually increased over the years, the percentage of drunk driving fatalities has slowly declined. The actual number of alcohol related fatalities has declined also, after peaking in 1986. In 2008, out of all traffic fatalities, 28% involved a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher.

Keep in mind, if you are pulled over for any reason and the officer has reason to believe you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, he has the right to administer field sobriety tests to determine whether you can safely drive.

Georgia is among many states with an implied consent law, under which a person who drives a car in Georgia is presumed to agree to suspension of his driver’s license if he refuses to consent to a blood, breathalyzer, or urine test for DUI. Courts have ruled implied consent laws constitutional.
Under the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions, you do have the right to refuse to provide evidence against yourself by testing, but your driver’s license may be immediately confiscated and you’ll face a one year suspension.  In addition, your act of refusal can be used as evidence of guilt in a DUI prosecution.  If you consent, you have the right to an independent blood test, at your own expense.
You are considered legally drunk in Georgia if your blood alcohol content is 0.08 or above. If you are suspected of drunk driving, the officer will administer a Breathalyzer test at the scene. The Breathalyzer is a small hand-held machine that measures the amount of ethanol in your breath with an infrared light. If you are suspected of drunk driving, the deputy or officer who pulls you over will ask you to blow into this machine for a minute, by placing your mouth around the tube. When the officer instructs you to stop blowing, the Breathalyzer will give him your score.

In addition to the Breathalyzer test, you may be asked to perform certain physical tasks to check your balance and thinking abilities. These can include reciting the alphabet, counting backwards, touching your finger to your nose with your eyes closed and balancing on one foot. These tests are particularly helpful to an officer if you are suspected of being under the influence of legal or illegal drugs. If you have any physical limitations that would prevent you from performing these actions at any time, it is important to inform the officer immediately.

Georgia has mandatory punishment guidelines for convicted drunk drivers, and they are severe. For your first offense you will be sentenced to 10 days to one year in jail, a fine of $300 to $1,000, a suspension of your license for up to one year and at least 40 hours of community service. To have your license reinstated you will have to pay at least $210.

Those drivers with a particularly excessive BAC – .15 percent above the legal limit of .08 percent – incur stricter punishment, as do drivers who refuse to cooperate with chemical testing of breath, blood, or urine to determine intoxication levels. Refusal carries the penalty of a suspended driver’s license for up to one year by the Department of Motor Vehicles. In addition, for the first DUI offense the mandatory suspension of the driver’s license is one year; for the second offense, three years; for the third offense, five years.

Zero tolerance laws are intended to keep drivers under the legal drinking age from indulging in the risk of drinking and driving, and therefore there are stricter penalties and limits for underage drivers. A person under the age of 21 is allowed just .02 percent BAC limit by law before being subjected to DUI penalties.

A second DUI conviction in Georgia allows the courts to order an ignition interlock device to be attached to the driver’s car at the driver's expense. A fourth DUI conviction allows the courts to confiscate the driver’s vehicle. Alcohol education or treatment/assessment for alcohol abuse can be required for DUI offenders.

Georgia’s DUI law also requires first-time offenders to undergo drug and alcohol evaluation. And if that evaluation deems necessary, the offenders must participate in strict, court-supervised substance-abuse treatment to decrease the likelihood of recurring offenses.

Georgia’s felony DUI law applies to offenses occurring on or after July 1, 2008. Under its provisions:

  • First and Second DUI Convictions are treated as misdemeanors
  • Third DUI Convictions are treated as misemeanors of high and aggravated nature
  • Fourth or Subsequent Convictions committed within 10 years are treated as felonies