In high school, most, if not all of us, have probably experienced trying to buy beer using whatever means necessary—from fake IDs to having someone of legal drinking age buy it for us. We all have the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) laws to thank for that. Because of these laws, we had to wait until we reached the age of 21 before we can consume alcohol legally.
MLDA laws may be strict, but zero tolerance laws are even more stringent.
Zero tolerance laws frown heavily on driving while under the influence of alcohol, and while underage. Under zero tolerance laws, drivers under 21 are prohibited from having any amount of alcohol in their system. The consequences of a DUI are always severe, but the penalties for underage DUI almost always seem harsher because drivers that young could be punished for the tiniest bit of alcohol in their bloodstream.
Zero tolerance means zero BAC levels.
Under federal law, drivers 21 years old and above will be arrested for a DUI if they are caught with a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.08% or above.
Underage drivers have no such luck under zero tolerance laws. In states that enforce zero tolerance, drivers below 21 can be arrested and charged with a DUI even if their BAC levels are only slightly above 0.00%. That means an innocent glass of wine could mean a DUI charge for a teenager who goes on to drive somewhere after a family dinner.
Why zero tolerance laws were implemented
According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about a third of all deaths of 15- to 20-year-olds are caused by a motor vehicle crash, with alcohol-related incidents accounting for approximately 35 percent of those fatalities. Zero tolerance laws were enforced by several states to discourage underage drinking and driving, and prevent drunk driving injuries and deaths among them.
The consequences of underage DUI
As mentioned above, the punishment for underage drunk driving is relatively harsh, considering the amount of alcohol needed to secure an arrest and conviction. These penalties may vary, but states that have zero tolerance laws in place typically mete the following on underage DUI defendants:
- Possible jail time that may range from one day to a year
- Fines that may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars
- Impoundment of motor vehicle
- Driver’s license suspension of 30 days, or up to the day they reach the age of 21
- Community service in place of jail time
- DUI school where they are required to attend substance abuse classes or treatment
- Three to five years’ probation
- Juvenile detention
There are aggravating circumstances that could make the penalties even worse. Driving on a suspended license or a much higher BAC can do that. And if the driver is a repeat offender, he or she could serve several years in jail.
The worst-case DUI scenario is if a drunk underage driver causes an accident that leads to serious bodily injury or death because it will bring on a felony DUI charge, the criminal and civil penalties for which are much greater than a simple misdemeanor. The same goes for driving drunk with passengers below a certain age.
The consequences of an underage DUI go beyond the legal penalties that come with a conviction. A conviction for an underage DUI offense will likely affect a young driver’s chances for admission into universities, job prospects, and getting reasonable car insurance rates.
In case you find yourself charged with an underage DUI offense, you are going to need the services of a DUI lawyer to help you understand your legal options and get the best possible result for you.