10 percent of licensed drivers are under 21, yet they are responsible for 17 percent of fatal alcohol-related crashes. Contributing to the problem — underage drinkers have a tendency to binge drink. The blood alcohol content (BAC) of victims of intoxicated underage car accidents on average is five times the legal limit (.40 BAC). Underage drinkers are more reckless and less likely to wear seatbelts. In most states, anyone under 21 operating a motor vehicle with a BAC level of .02% or higher can be cited for a DUI. Some states, such as Arizona and North Carolina, are less forgiving with a “zero-tolerance” policy for underage drinkers. In these states, any BAC over 0% will trigger a DUI. Some states have hybrid BAC rules with .01% triggering some penalties, or a higher BAC; say .05%, triggering a full-blown DUI charge.
Besides the fines — ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars — an underage DUI will usually result in license suspension for one year or more and perhaps impoundment of the vehicle. The driver will most likely have to attend drug/alcohol and driver’s education classes as well as to complete a month or more of community service. Sometimes the community service is in lieu of paying a fine; sometimes it is in combination with the fine. There is also the possibility of jail time, again depending on state law and the facts specific to the case. For a first offense, jail time may range from 24 hours to a year. In addition, the young driver will be subject to a probationary period of three to five years. Find your state’s DUI penalties.
A sometimes-overlooked effect of a youthful DUI is that disclosure of the resulting conviction may be required on college applications, job applications, or for requests for some types of financial aid. The failure to report this information can result in the loss of rights, loss of financial aid, or even charges of perjury, if later discovered. Finally, many states have “Use and Lose” laws under which a person under 21 found using alcohol or drugs will suffer a license suspension regardless of whether the person was behind the wheel.