Massachusetts law about drunk or drugged driving

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases and web sources on operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Massachusetts.

If you are unable to find the information you are looking for, or if you have a specific question, please contact our law librarians for assistance.

Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

In general

Mass. General Laws c.90:

  • § 24 Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • § 24D Probation, alcohol education, alcohol treatment
  • § 24E Dismissal of charges upon compliance with terms of probation
  • § 24I Possession of alcoholic beverages in motor vehicles
  • § 24J Inquiry of defendant convicted of driving under influence of intoxicating liquors as to establishment serving alcohol
  • § 24K Chemical breath analysis; validity; testing procedures; report forms
  • § 24L Serious bodily injury by motor vehicle while under influence of intoxicating substance
  • § 24N Suspension of operator's license upon issuance of complaint; hearing
  • § 24P Minors; further violations; education and treatment programs
  • § 24Q Alcohol or drug assessment as condition for certain sentences imposed under chapter
  • § 24R Revocation for life of license or right to operate
  • § 24V Child endangerment while operating a motor vehicle or vessel under the influence; penalties; suspension of license
  • § 24W Forfeiture of motor vehicle owned by certain drunk driving offenders; procedure; operating under the Influence Deterrent Trust Fund
  • § 24X Cancellation of registration for motor vehicles owned by certain drunk driving offenders

Ignition interlock devices

  • § 24-1/2 Ignition interlock devices
  • § 24S Operation of motor vehicle on public way in violation of ignition interlock device license restriction; penalties
  • § 24T Tampering with ignition interlock device; penalties
  • § 24U Starting motor vehicle equipped with ignition interlock device for another person under a restricted license


Massachusetts regulations

501 CMR 2 Safe roads (breath testing)
540 CMR 25 Ignition interlock devices

Massachusetts court rules

District Court Standing Order 1-08: Petitions for judicial review of license suspension for chemical test refusal

Federal laws

Public Law 117 - 58 - Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
Includes a section titled “Advanced Impaired Driving Technology,” which allows the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to initiate the rulemaking process for setting a new automobile safety standard. This standard mandates that all new cars be equipped with "advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology" by 2026.

Federal regulations

36 CFR 4.23 Operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs in federal parks

Selected case law

Operating under the influence of alcohol

Burke v. Board of Appeal on Motor Vehicle Liability Policies and Bonds, 90 Mass.App.Ct. 203 (2016)
An "admission to sufficient facts", or CWOF, counts as a previous conviction and thus the registrar has the authority to suspend the driver's license for more than 180 days.

Commerce Insurance v. Ultimate Livery, Inc., 452 Mass. 639 (2008)
A limousine company, who owed a duty to the plaintiffs, could be tried for negligence after dropping intoxicated passengers off at their vehicle, who then drove resulting in a fatal accident.

Comm. v. Colturi, 448 Mass. 809 (2007)
Prosecutors need not introduce expert testimony extrapolating from blood alcohol level at the time of the test to the level at the time of the stop, "so long as the test is conducted within a reasonable period of time after the driver's last operation of the vehicle."

Comm. v. Daigle, 99 Mass. App. Ct. 107 (2021)
Before the Commonwealth can introduce evidence of a breath test not registering an adequate sample as a refusal, they "must show, at a minimum, that the person administering the test is a certified operator and that the breathalyzer machine is functioning properly."

Comm. v. Bohigian, 486 Mass. 209 (2020)
Blood cannot be drawn from a driver who has been charged with OUI without their consent, and obtaining a search warrant is not an alternative to consent. 

Comm. v. Dennis, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 528 (2019)
Police need a warrant or "exigent circumstances" to draw blood. If there are exigent circumstances, the person still has the right to refuse, and the blood can only be drawn with their consent.

Comm. v. Escobar, 490 Mass. 488 (2022)
Defendants charged with vehicular homicide as a result of drunk or reckless driving cannot be held without bail.

Comm. v. Gibson, 82 Mass. App. Ct. 834 (2012)
Instruction on absence of breathalyzer evidence. Where "no breathalyzer test report or results were admitted in evidence, a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice arose from the judge's erroneous limiting instruction that, in addition to appropriately instructing the jury that they were not to consider any absence of breathalyzer evidence, informed them that a person does not have to take a breathalyzer test."

Comm. v. Maloney, 447 Mass. 577 (2006)
Upheld the portions of Melanie's Law dealing with proof of prior convictions. "We hold that the application of § 6A of Melanie's Law, St. 2005, c. 122 , § 6A, as construed in this opinion, to the defendant's G. L. c. 278, § 11A, proceeding does not violate the ex post facto, due process, or confrontation clauses of the Federal or State Constitutions."

Comm. v. Mansur, 484 Mass. 172 (2020)
Having an open container in your vehicle is a civil, not criminal, offense.

Comm. v. Neary-French, 475 Mass. 167 (2016)
There is no right to counsel before a defendant decides whether to take a breathalyzer test.

Comm. v. Nascimento, 479 Mass. 681 (2018)
A person whose license was administratively suspended by the police for failing a breathalyzer test cannot be charged with operating a motor vehicle after a license suspension for operating while under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances.

Comm. v. Richards, 480 Mass. 413 (2018)
A defendant whose license is revoked for refusal to consent to a breathalyzer, and is later found not guilty of driving under the influence, may immediately request reinstatement of his license. The court will consider the facts as they exist at the time of acquittal, and if the reinstatement is denied, the defendant may not come back at a future date to request reinstatement. 

Comm. v. Steele, 455 Mass. 209 (2009)
501 CMR 2.57 [Reg. is now at 501 CMR 2.15] is valid and controlling and where two samples "differ within +/- 0.02 blood alcohol content units, the lower of the two adequate breath samples shall be taken as the individual under arrest's blood alcohol level."

Comm. v. Wolfe, 478 Mass. 142 (2017)
A "judge should not give a jury instruction that specifically mentions the absence of breathalyzer or other alcohol-test evidence unless the defendant requests it."

Comm. v. Zeininger, 459 Mass. 775 (2011)
The annual certification and supporting records for the breath testing machine were admissible under the hearsay exception for business records and did not violate the defendant’s sixth amendment right to confrontation.

DiGregorio v. Registrar of Motor Vehicles, 78 Mass. App. Ct. 775 (2011)
When relying on an out-of-state drunk driving conviction to impose a license suspension, the suspension begins with the date of conviction, not the date the registry found out about it.

Sullivan v. Board of Appeal on Motor Vehicle Liability, 97 Mass. App. Ct. 818 (2020)
Where a driver commits an offense of operating under the influence, and then later commits a separate OUI offense that results in death, and is ultimately convicted of both offenses, it is the order of the offenses, and not the order of the court convictions, that matters.

Operating under the influence of marijuana

Comm. v. Davis, 481 Mass. 210 (2019)
Police officer had probable cause to arrest the defendant for operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana based on the officer’s observations of the defendant’s behavior.

Comm. v. Gerhardt, 477 Mass. 775 (2017)
"[T]here is as yet no scientific agreement on whether, and, if so, to what extent, [field sobriety] tests are indicative of marijuana intoxication...Neither a police officer nor a lay witness who has not been qualified as an expert may offer an opinion as to whether a driver was under the influence of marijuana." A police officer may testify, however, about his or her observations, including observations of the defendant's performance on requested behaviors.

Operating under the influence of prescription medication

Commonwealth v. Bishop, 78 Mass.App.Ct. 70 (2010), review denied 458 Mass. 1110
On the issue of involuntary intoxication, a judge should instruct the jury that a defendant is entitled to an acquittal if her intoxication was caused solely by her prescription medication, taken as prescribed, and she did not know or have reason to know of the possible effects of the drug on her driving abilities, but the jury can find the defendant guilty if they find that alcohol contributed to her intoxication.

Commonwealth v. Reynolds, 67 Mass.App.Ct. 215 (2006), review denied 447 Mass. 1112
Court correctly denied defendant's motion for required finding of not guilty of felony vehicular homicide where there was evidence on the essential element of intoxication that the defendant knew the consequences of taking the prescription drugs she consumed.

Jury instructions

Criminal Model Jury Instruction 5.300: Operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor or with a blood alcohol level of .08% or greater, Mass. District Court

Criminal Model Jury Instruction 5.310: Operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor, Mass. District Court.

Model jury instruction regarding roadside assessments for use in prosecutions for operating under the influence of marijuana
Commonwealth v. Gerhardt, 477 Mass. 775 (2017) Appendix: 

You heard testimony in this case that the defendant, at the request of a police officer, performed or attempted to perform various roadside assessments, such as [Here outline the nature of the evidence, e.g., walking a straight line, balancing on one foot]. These roadside assessments are not scientific tests of impairment by marijuana use. A person may have difficulty performing these tasks for many reasons unrelated to the consumption of marijuana.

It is for you to decide if the defendant's performance on these roadside assessments indicate that his [her] ability to operate a motor vehicle safely was impaired. You may consider this evidence solely as it relates to the defendant's balance, coordination, mental clarity, ability to retain and follow directions, ability to perform tasks requiring divided attention, and other skills you may find are relevant to the safe operation of a motor vehicle.

It is for you to determine how much, if any, weight to give the roadside assessments. In making your determination, you may consider what the officer asked the defendant to do, the circumstances under which they were given and performed, and all of the other evidence in this case.

Finally, evidence of how a defendant performed in roadside assessments, standing alone, is never enough to convict a defendant of operating under the influence of marijuana.

Testing and devices

Approved breath testing instruments, State Police Office of Alcohol Testing, 2018.

Comm. v. Ananias Memorandum of Decision on Commonwealth's Motion to Admit Breath Test Results, July 29, 2019.
Breath tests from the Draegor Alcotest 9510 are once again admissible for "all Alcotest 9510 machines calibrated and certified on or after April 18, 2019."  A January 2019 settlement agreement had presumptively excluded such tests until certain changes were made to ensure their reliability. See Breathalyzers temporarily not admissible in court, judge rules, Boston Herald, January 10, 2019.

Use of breathalyzers suspended, pending evidentiary hearing in Com v. Ananias, et al., November 17, 2021.
Judge Brennan ordered all use of breath tests to be suspended, pending an evidentiary hearing on whether the Draeger Alcotest 9510 breath tests were reliable.

DWI detection and standardized field sobriety test (SFST) instructor guide, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"The 2018 update of the Administrator's Guide provides an introduction and overview of the DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) Training Program. It is intended to facilitate planning and implementation of the DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) Testing Course."

DWI detection and standardized field sobriety test (SFST) participant manual, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
This is the 2018 update to the Participant's Manual for the DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) Training Program. The training curriculum collectively prepares police officers and other qualified persons to conduct the SFST's for use in DWI investigations.

Ignition interlock device program, Registry of Motor Vehicles.
Explains some of the details of who needs a device, how to obtain one, and how they work.

Web sources

Alcohol and drug suspensions for over 21 years of age, Registry of Motor Vehicles.
Provides the Registry of Motor Vehicles' policies related to alcohol or drug suspensions/revocations for customers over the age of 21. Includes tables outlining the penalties under the law.

DUI and DWI in Massachusetts,
This commercial site brings together a great summary of the provisions of Massachusetts law related to drunk driving.

Federal DUI Laws, Findlaw.
"Information about federal DUI laws, including a definition of what constitutes “federal land,” and the elements of a federal DUI."

Online sources from the law libraries

Contact your Trial Court Law Library for information from this valuable online book:

  • Massachusetts Prosecutors’ Guide, 41st edition, 2021. 
    “The Guide presents a timely and comprehensive analysis of Massachusetts criminal law and its practice in the courts of the Commonwealth. It is fully updated each fall and during the year as new developments in the law warrant.”

Print sources

Drunk driving defense (Mass. Practice v.50), West, annual softcover.

Handling OUI cases, MCLE audio, 2017.

LexisNexis practice guide: Massachusetts OUI law, Lexis, annual.

Motor vehicle law and practice, 5th ed. (Mass Practice v.12), Thomson Reuters, 2021 with supplement.
Section 28:36 - Operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol--M.G.L.A. c.90, s.24.

Representing the OUI client, Mass. Bar Institute, 2011.

Trying OUI cases in Massachusetts, MCLE, 2nd ed., loose-leaf.

Understanding breath testing, MCLE, 2018.


Last updated: October 25, 2022