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DUI Zero Tolerance Laws

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Across the United States, it is against the law for anyone to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) above .08 percent. A special set of DUI laws for underage drivers (less than 21 years old) called zero tolerance prohibits driving with even lower blood alcohol concentrations. Studies have shown that underage drivers are almost three times more likely to be involved in alcohol-related fatal crashes than other drivers.1

There are a variety of DWI consequences for violating zero tolerance laws. DUI costs are just one of the potential penalties, which also may include driver's license suspension, drug and alcohol education, community service, and incarceration. Additionally, a criminal conviction can negatively impact future educational and career prospects, which is an especially important consideration for a younger person. Fortunately, with the help of a skilled DUI attorney who will fight to protect your rights, these problems might be lessened or even avoided altogether.

Social Host Liability

Social host liability imposes liability on adults who serve or provide alcohol to persons less than 21 years old and/or persons who are obviously intoxicated if that person is injured or killed or injures or kills another person (e.g., in a car accident on the way home from the party).

Social hosts may face two different types of legal actions:

  1. Criminal proceedings that can lead to fines and imprisonment.
  2. Civil lawsuit by any party that suffered injury or damages as a result of the underage drinking on the host's premises (in addition to social host laws, civil liability may exist based on negligence).

Social host liability generally applies to situations where an individual is providing alcohol for free to guests at a private party or work event. Liability for commercial establishments (e.g., bars) is usually covered by a different set of laws called dram shop laws. To learn more about the laws in your state, speak to a DUI attorney.

Zero Tolerance

In every state, it is against the law for a driver under 21 years of age to have any measurable alcohol in his or her blood. A chemical test (blood, breath or urine) is required to confirm the presence of alcohol. Refusing to take the test and/or failing the test will likely trigger both civil and criminal charges. However, if the BAC test was not performed in the course of a lawful stop and search, a DUI attorney may be able to get all of the charges dismissed.

In some states, criminal prosecution may occur with any BAC over .00, but in others the threshold is higher (e.g., between .05 and .07). If criminal charges are filed, there is a real possibility of jail for DWI arrest. If the BAC is above .08, the state might add a regular DUI/DWI to the list of charges. Bail can be secured through a bail bondsman if you are arrested. (The cost of DUI bail varies.)

Whether or not criminal charges are filed, an underage driver who is over the zero tolerance state limit (usually .00 to .02 BAC) will lose his or her driving privilege immediately. This is often called an administrative license suspension (ALS). The driver is entitled to a hearing to contest the suspension, though he or she might have as little as 10 days to request one. A DUI attorney will act in a timely manner to advocate for restoration of your driving privileges.


Zero Tolerance Penalties

The consequences for violating zero tolerance laws vary from state to state and are usually equal to or more severe than that of regular DUI/DWI laws. For example, in California if you are over 21 and your BAC is over .08, your license will be suspended for four months, but if you are under 21 and your BAC is over .01, your license is automatically suspended for one year.2 Other significant factors include:

Degree of Offense. On a DWI first offense, most states will suspend your driver's license anywhere from one month to one year and may also order payment of fines, community service and even some jail time. For example, the penalties for a first offense of zero tolerance laws in Michigan are:

  • Up to $250 fine and/or
  • Up to 360 hours of community service
  • Driver license restriction for 30 days
  • Four points on driver record
  • $500 Driver Responsibility Fee for two consecutive years

The penalties for the second offense within seven years are:

  • Up to $500 fine and/or
  • Up to 60 days community service
  • Up to 93 days in jail
  • Driver license suspension for 90 days. Any prior drunk driving conviction results in a minimum one-year driver's license revocation
  • Four points on driver record
  • $500 Driver Responsibility Fee for two consecutive years

If there are aggravating factors (e.g., injury) and/or multiple offenses, the penalties increase.

More Under-21 Alcohol and Drug Crimes

If a person under 21 years of age has been charged with violating a zero tolerance law, there is a real possibility that they also have been charged with other alcohol and drug crimes. Though the laws vary by state, they might include the prohibition of the following:

  • Purchase, consumption and/or possession of alcohol by a minor
  • Transportation or possession of alcohol by a minor in a motor vehicle
  • Misrepresentation of age/Use of fraudulent ID to purchase alcohol
  • Driving with a suspended license

As part of a defense strategy, a skilled DUI attorney might arrange a plea down to one of the lesser, non-DUI charges and avoid some of the harsher penalties associated with underage drinking and driving.

Refusing a Chemical Test. Penalties for refusing to submit to a BAC test are usually harsher than failing the BAC test. For example, in Florida if you are under 21 and drive with a BAC of .02 or higher, your first offense requires a license suspension of six months, but if you refuse the BAC test your license will be automatically suspended for one year.3

Age of Driver. The age of the driver can affect both the charges and the penalties. For example, in Iowa a driver under the age of 18 whose license is revoked after failing a chemical test cannot get the license back until the revocation expires or until the person reaches 18, whichever is later.

A DUI lawyer can tell you what the penalties are in your state for underage drinking and driving.

DUI Lawyers

When a person under 21 is charged with a zero tolerance violation, there are many ways DUI attorneys can help. If the state has an exemption for consuming alcohol for religious purposes or taking a medication as prescribed, a DUI attorney may be able to get the case dismissed. Importantly, an attorney may also be able to secure a restricted driving permit during and after the case so that the defendant can attend to important obligations such as work, school or treatment. It is best to speak with a knowledgeable attorney to learn more about zero tolerance laws in your state and to find out the typical cost for a DUI attorney.

1 New York State Department of Motor Vehicles
2 California Department of Motor Vehicles
3 Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles