While the legal drinking age in the United States is 21, studies consistently show that most young people begin drinking alcohol before their 21st birthday and that underage drinking can lead to dangerous behaviors such as binge drinking and drinking and driving. In an effort to combat underage drinking and driving, the federal government passed a law requiring each state, under the threat of losing federal highway money, to suspend the license of any minor driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .02% or higher.
To comply with this federal law, states have passed “Zero Tolerance Laws” that make it illegal for a minor to operate a car after drinking even a very small amount of alcohol, even when there is no evidence that the minor’s ability to drive was impaired. In addition to losing their licenses, minors who violate their state’s Zero Tolerance Law may also suffer other consequences.
Operating a vehicle
States define driving or operating a vehicle in different ways. In some states, operating a vehicle is broadly defined to include being in control of the car, even if it is not moving. For example, sitting in the driver’s seat with the keys in the ignition may be considered operating a vehicle.
Blood alcohol content
Depending on the state, the BAC limit for minors may be .00%, .01%, or .02%. In states with a .00% limit, it is a crime for a minor to drive after drinking any amount of alcohol. Even in states with slightly higher BAC limits, a minor who has one drink or even one-half of a drink could be convicted of a DUI.
Under each state’s Zero Tolerance Law, minors who drive with BAC over the legal limit will lose their licenses and may also face other penalties.
Minors can lose their licenses if they:
- have a BAC over state’s Zero Tolerance limit, or
- refuse to take a BAC test (such as a blood test or a Breathalyzer).
Often, the police officer that makes the traffic stop or responds to the accident can take and suspend the minor’s driver’s license then and there. While the length of the suspension can vary based on the state, the minor’s age, and the minor’s BAC, suspensions of one to two years are not uncommon.
Additional punishments for underage DUI convictions vary depending on the facts of the offense and the state’s laws. A DUI that results in an accident that causes injury or death will be dealt with much more harshly than a DUI that results in a mere traffic law violation.
Possible consequences include:
- jail time or time in a juvenile facility
- participation in an alcohol treatment program
- restitution (repayment) for any damages caused to property or medical expenses
- driving safety classes
- installation of an ignition lock that only permits the driver to start their car after blowing into a Breathalyzer
- community service, and
Punishment for multiple DUIs
While first-time offenders face stiff penalties, many states have imposed harsher punishments for second (or subsequent) DUI convictions. Depending on the state, second DUIs may be treated as felonies, or may require mandatory jail time (or time in a juvenile facility) in addition to the other penalties listed above. In many states, a conviction or license suspension for an underage DUI can qualify as a first offense if the defendant is later convicted of DUI as a minor or as an adult.
Don’t let a DUI ruin your record. Contact our office to obtain legal representation for your case. Skip Potter has been practicing defense law for over 30 years. Let him, help you. Contact the office now to schedule a confidential consultation.