The same as a regular DUI (driving under the influence) charge, underage DUI also criminalizes the driver’s actions of getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle after drinking too much. The difference is that underage DUI is specifically charged against drivers younger than 21. In effect, these people have committed dual offenses: driving while intoxicated and illegal consumption of alcohol. Underage drunk drivers are found to be particularly dangerous, hence the strict laws and penalties related to this offense.
Just like regular DUIs, drinking and driving underage is quite rampant in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, however, reports that in the last couple of decades, the incidents of underage drunk driving leading to fatalities have gone down by almost 60 percent, thanks to law enforcement efforts to implement strong state laws. Nonetheless, the decrease in numbers is not enough. There remains plenty of room to improve, as evidenced by the 2012 statistics indicating that more than three people younger than 21 died every day from an alcohol-related driving incident.
Zero Tolerance Bill
To diminish incidents of alcohol-related vehicular crashes among underage drivers, various states have adopted “zero tolerance” laws, making it illegal for underage drivers to operate a motor vehicle upon consuming even tiny amounts of alcohol. These laws stem from a federal law called the Zero Tolerance Bill, which was passed to discourage minors from drunk driving. The bill makes it a requirement for all states to make driving with a blood-alcohol level of .02 percent or higher among minors against the law. Failure to enact such laws can lead to the denial of the state’s access to federal highway funds.
With adult DUIs, the driver has to manifest a blood alcohol level of at least .08 percent to be charged. For underage drivers, even .01 percent blood alcohol content, equivalent to one drink or even less, is enough to warrant a DUI charge. Underage drivers do not have to show any evidence of impaired driving to be charged. Just the fact that they consumed alcohol and got behind the wheel is sufficient for them to be charged with DUI.
In some states, zero-tolerance goes so far as to make any incident of underage drinking, no matter how minuscule the amount of alcohol consumed, and driving a crime, even if the driver does not register any blood alcohol content. This means that a BAC level of 0.00 percent could still warrant serious legal consequences.
Zero Tolerance Penalties
The punishment for DUI under Zero Tolerance Laws involves fines worth anywhere from several hundred to several thousands of dollars and license suspension for at least one year. Some states also require that the vehicles of charged minors be impounded. Jail time is quite rare, but blood alcohol content has to be taken into account. The higher it is, the harsher the punishment and the likelihood of the offender getting jail time also increases.
One of the main goals in implementing these severe underage DUI laws is to stop minors from drinking alcohol and operating a vehicle. For this reason, many of the states also require classes educating participants on the dangers of drinking and driving. Depending on the case, the offender may also be required to undergo an alcohol rehabilitation program.
DUI Troubles? Contact a Virginia DUI Attorney Today!
If you or your loved one is facing DUI criminal charges, consult a criminal defense lawyer right away. The prudent course if you’re arrested for DUI is to get legal advice as well as legal representation before you take any further step. For legal assistance on a DUI case, call us at The Fisher Law Firm and speak with an experienced Virginia DUI lawyer.