The New York legal limit is .08% which figure refers to the level of alcoholic content in your blood. This reading makes it easier for prosecutors to convict someone of DWI. All they have to do is show that the defendant had such a reading and, as a result, he or she is considered per se drunk (even if they haven’t exhibited any effects of the alcohol and were otherwise driving fine).
Of course, with that said, there still must be probable cause to stop you while driving in the first place (i.e., some unsafe traffic maneuver or other basis to believe you driving is impaired). An officer cannot just randomly pull you off the road except if you are stopped at a sobriety check point.
Remember, however, that police officers almost always test your breath only (not your blood) and then extrapolate how much alcohol must be in your blood as a result of the breath test. The use of a formula to “back end" your blood alcohol ratio and the errors which can occur often provide grounds for attacking the breathalyzer test results later on by a savvy DWI attorney.
Another misunderstood thing about DWIs is that a breathalyzer test is only way you can be convicted of driving while intoxicated. Even if someone refuses to blow into a breathalyzer (or if the breathalyzer results can be thrown out as defective or unreliable), he or she can still be convicted of “common law" drinking and driving. In such a scenario, you are charged based upon the personal observations of the officer (blood shot or glassy eyes, swaying, unsteady gait, smell of alcohol, unsafe driving, etc). While it is harder to prove a common law DWI, the consequences of a conviction are as severe as on a per se DWI conviction.
A final point involves the consequences on your New York driver license. If you are charged with driving while intoxicated, your licensed is almost always temporarily suspended until the case is resolved. This can take months to resolve. You can ask the court for a “hardship license" but you’ll need to prove that the temporary suspension severely impacts your ability to work, support your family, etc. If you don’t get a hardship license, about 30 days after your arrest most people will be notified by DMV that they are eligible to apply for a restricted use license to drive for work or school.
If you are convicted of DWI (which is a misdemeanor under Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1191(2) and 1192(3)), your license is revoked for 6 months and will have a criminal record. Many DWI cases are resolved by a plea bargain reduction to a lesser charge known as driving while impaired (which is only a violation under Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1192(1)). Driving while impaired refers to driving while a blood alcohol ration of .05 to under .08 and carries only a 90-day suspension of driving privileges.
And, of course, no discussion of the consequences would be complete without mentioning the money. There are all types of costs involved with such a case including a fine, surcharge, court costs, and driver assessment fee.
Given the consequences of driving while intoxicated as well as the obvious safety issues, don't take any chances when you drink. Take a cab or get a designated driver.