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Overview of Underage DUI/DWI Laws

Overview of Underage DUI/DWI Laws


The United States Congress passed the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995, which required states to enact and enforce zero-tolerance laws aimed at individuals under the age of 21 (a “juvenile”) who have a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.02% or greater while operating a motor vehicle. This federal law required states to pass zero-tolerance legislation as a condition for receiving federal transportation funds. A state’s failure to pass such legislation resulted in a loss of five percent of federal highway funds on Oct. 1, 1998, and a 10 percent loss every year thereafter.


By June 1998, all states had enacted legislation that complied with the federal zero-tolerance criteria: 12 states and the District of Columbia set the limit at .00 BAC; two states at .01 BAC; and, 36 states at .02 BAC. The adult laws, which have a .08 BAC in comparison.


A number of states have adopted components of a graduated licensing system. The graduated drivers licensing system is a three-tiered licensing system under which novice drivers are given full driving privileges gradually, after an extended period of education, supervised driving with nighttime restrictions, and citation and alcohol-free driving record. Typical penalties for violations by juvenile drinkers in states that have enacted graduated licensing laws include license suspension or extension of the holding periods.


As with the “adult” statutes, the juvenile driver’s statute provides that by applying for and using a driver’s license, a person under 21 is deemed to have consented to the provisions of the statute. A breath or blood-alcohol level of 0.02% or higher will result in a driver’s license suspension; and a refusal to submit to an officer’s request for a test will bring about a suspension, just like an adult. Like adults, juveniles may request an administrative hearing to review the suspension. Because of the driver’s special age status, the alcohol-related cases involving juveniles may be handled by either the juvenile or family court systems. In that case, a violation is neither a criminal offense nor a traffic violation, and any detention under the statute does not constitute an arrest. Other states provided that the same court that has jurisdiction over traffic violations also has jurisdictions over the case of a juvenile, i.e. traffic or criminal.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.


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