We all know of the ramifications if an adult is caught driving under the influence but what happens if someone is under the age of 21 and drives under the influence? After all, they shouldn’t have consumed alcohol at all, let alone driving after drinking it. Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense, especially underage drunk driving. Currently, all 50 states, including the District of Columbia, have laws that make it a crime for anyone to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent. For those under the age of 21, however, that percentage is much lower. Individuals cited for underage DUI usually face the consequences associated with two crimes: underage drinking and DUI. However, the underage DUI laws and the consequences thereof are less consistent across each state.
The process of arresting a minor is pretty much the same as in standard adult cases. There must be probable cause to stop the minor. Minors will then be given field sobriety tests, a breathalyzer test and then taken to the station to be charged. The penalties associated with a DUI for a minor can vary by state. The minor may have a suspension of his license up to three years and also be ordered to attend driver’s courses. In addition to this, it may be difficult to obtain a job in the future or they may even lose the job that they currently have. In many states, anyone under 21 years of age caught driving with a BAC level of .02% or higher can be cited for an underage DUI. Although the punishments for underage DUI varies by state, the sentencing guidelines typically involve the following:
- Paying fines ranging from $100 to $2,500
- Impounding the car involved
- Attending drug/alcohol and driver’s education classes
- Completing between 30-60 days of community service
- Revocation of driving privileges from 90 days to 3 years
- Paying any and all fees associated with the punishments
- Jail time, ranging from 2 days to a year
- Probation for a period of 3 to 5 years
Of course, the legal implications here stretch far beyond a DUI charge. You have to take into account the fact that a person was drinking under the age of 21. This person will be charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol and if anyone else is in the vehicle that is drunk they will be charged with distributing alcohol to them as well. They may even be charged with soliciting alcohol from an adult or even holding fake ids. Further, the prosecutor makes the decision if charges are filed as an underage DUI, a “regular” DUI or both, and you will be sentenced accordingly. These are all pretty serious charges and something that you really don’t want to deal with.
In many states, a zero tolerance law applies to underage drinking. This means that it is illegal for people under the legal age to drive with a blood alcohol content level of anything but 0.0%. “Zero tolerance” means just that — zero tolerance for having any alcohol in your system while driving. Even using mouthwash with alcohol in it will subject you to prosecution under this section. Currently, 46 states have lower BAC levels for younger drivers. Additionally, 44 states have set their illegal BAC levels for drivers under 21 to 0.02% in order to allow for variation in alcohol testing instruments. As part of the zero tolerance law, police officers have the right to require a breath test from drivers under the age of 21 if the officer has reason to believe that the driver is under the influence of alcohol. Drivers who refuse to submit to such a test or who register an illegal BAC level are subject to legal consequences, such as losing their driver’s licenses.
The reason why the police have taken such a hard stance on this is because thousands of people aged 15 to 20 are dying in motor vehicle accidents each year. 24% of these people were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. These minors shouldn’t be even consuming alcohol let alone having the ability to drive on the road and cause fatal accidents, advised an Orlando bankruptcy law firm who deals with bankruptcy cases resulting from multiple offense DUI’s.
Some of the statistics of Underage DUI are staggering. Currently, motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death among people between the ages of 15 and 20. In 2005, there were 7,460 youth deaths that fell into this category, including passengers and drivers. Other drunk driving statistics related to underage DUI include:
- 28 percent of 15 to 20-year-old drivers who died in car accidents had been drinking
- Underage DUI seems to be a bigger problem for the males in that age category, as 24 percent of young male drivers involved in fatal accidents had been under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash. 12 percent of young female drivers were involved in fatal crashes while drunk.
- When polled, 28.5 percent of high school students nationwide admitted to riding in a car at least once while the driver was under the influence of alcohol.
- Teens are less likely to wear seatbelts when alcohol is in their systems. 74 percent of the young drivers who were involved in fatal accidents were unrestrained at the point of impact. (Source: lawfirms.com).
In 2007, 62% of students in the eighth grade reported that it is very easy or fairly easy to obtain alcohol. Additionally, the average age at which a person first uses alcohol has been decreasing since 1965. An estimated 5.8 percent of 16 and 17 year olds and 15.1 percent of 18 to 20 year olds reported driving under the influence of alcohol in the past year. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings.” September 2011.) Kids who start drinking young are seven times more likely to be in an alcohol-related crash. Teen alcohol use kills about 6000 people each year, more than all illegal drugs combined. Further, one in five teens binge drink and only 1 in 100 parents believes his or her teen binge drinks. (Hingson, Ralph and D. Kenkel. “Social and Health Consequences of Underage Drinking.” In press. As quoted in Institute of Medicine National Research Council of the National Academies. Bonnie, Richard J. and Mary Ellen O’Connell, eds. Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2003).
Being caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs at such a young age has consequences that will affect you for the rest of your life. Put simply, don’t do it. The risks are far too huge both on the road and off the road. If you are charged with a DUI at a young age then I suggest retaining a DUI lawyer who will be able to walk you through the process and defend you in court. The courts are taking a hard stance on Underage DUI and without someone to defend you, you are looking at some incredibly harsh punishments. The courts will not care that you are young, their main concern is deterring you and other underage individuals from doing it in the future. Don’t be made an example.