Zero Tolerance Laws For Underage DUI Offenses

To help curb underage drunk driving, all states have not only introduced stiff penalties for underage DUI, but they have also enacted “zero-tolerance” laws. Said laws apply to drivers under the age of 21. 

What Zero Tolerance Is

In all 50 states, including the District of Columbia, it is illegal for people under 21 to purchase and possess alcohol. And while driving under the influence (0.08 percent or higher BAC) is prohibited for all motorists, all states have zero-tolerance laws for underage DUI offenses.

Under the zero-tolerance laws, drivers under the age of 21 who drive with even the smallest amount of alcohol in their system (0.00 to 0.02 BAC depending on the states) will be slapped with a criminal DUI offense.

In light of such laws, an innocent glass of wine during dinner can subject an underage driver with a DUI charge. While considered harsh, it is crucial to remember that zero-tolerance laws exist to combat the real dangers of underage drinking.

The Importance of Zero Tolerance Laws

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly a third of all deaths of 15- to 20-year-olds are attributed to motor vehicle crashes. At least 35 percent of the fatalities are, unfortunately, alcohol-related.

NHTSA further revealed that the involvement rate for young drivers is almost twice that of drivers over 21. Statistics also show that underage drinking at even low levels presents a higher risk of fatal crashes.

The National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995 mandated that states should consider 0.02 percent BAC for drivers under 21 to be driving under the influence to qualify for Federal-Aid Highway Funds.

To comply, states have to set 0.02 percent BAC as “per se offense.” Police officers don’t have to prove intoxication as long as the underage driver is above the limit stated.

What to Do When Facing an Underage DUI Charge

Besides monetary fines, you can face license suspension (for a year or more) and sometimes vehicle impoundment when cited for DUI. It is also likely that you will be required to attend alcohol/drug classes and render community hours. If the offense is severe or a recurring one, it can result in jail time. 

When facing an underage DUI charge, keep in mind the following:

Get in touch with a DUI defense attorney.

While it would be tempting to call your family lawyer, it is in your best interest to pick a lawyer that deals specifically with impaired driving charges. Since a DUI is a high-stress situation, it is crucial to contact a DUI defense lawyer as soon as the potential for charges is evident. Your lawyer can give you the best advice on how to proceed.

Document your night.

When charged with a DUI, it would be beneficial to take notes and document what happened when you were arrested. Some of the things you need to remember when you were pulled over include:

  • Your speed before you were pulled over
  • How the officer interacted with you
  • Whether your Miranda rights were read to you
  • Whether your car was missing any essential parts (i.e., license plates, taillights, etc.)

Be mindful of the things you say.

If suspected of drinking and driving, it is likely that everything you say will be scrutinized. It is also expected that everything you do or say can be held against you in court. While you must be friendly and cooperative, it is also crucial that you check with your attorney when or when not to engage with the officers.


While some have challenged zero-tolerance laws based on their effectiveness, they have helped to significantly minimize the number of fatal crashes involving intoxicated and underage drivers. 

Also, if you are an underage driver, it is essential to always remember that DUI charges will have massive legal and monetary repercussions and can negatively affect your future education and career opportunities.

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