PinOver 3,000 teenagers die each year in alcohol-related accidents. Additionally, the rate of drunk-driving accidents is higher for motorists between the ages of 16 and 20. This high rate is due to teenagers’ inexperience with alcohol and the fact that they take greater risks while being less cautious. When a teenager gets behind the wheel while drunk, s/he not only puts him/herself at risk, but also other motorists, pedestrians, and property. As a result, teenage drunk driving laws across the US are quite harsh and follow a zero-tolerance principle.

Zero-Tolerance Laws

Zero-tolerance laws came about in the early 1980s in response to high rates of teenage drunk driving arrests, injuries, and deaths. Today, every state has a zero-tolerance law for teenage drunk drivers. Zero-tolerance laws contain illegal per se laws and administrative per se laws. Let’s take a look at each of these components.

First, illegal per se laws are laws that result in an immediate arrest. In this case, if a person under the age of 21 drives with any amount of alcohol in his/her system and is stopped by police, s/he will automatically be arrested. Second, these juveniles also face Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) sanctions such as immediate revocation or suspension of their driver’s license. These sanctions are in addition to any punishments ordered by the court.

Criminal Penalties for Teenage DWI/DUI

Juveniles convicted of DWI/DUI face any or all of:

  • Community service
  • Fines
  • Suspended driver’s license
  • Probation
  • Successful passage of drug and alcohol education classes
  • Outpatient/inpatient alcohol treatment
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID)
  • Vehicle impoundment
  • Jail

In some states, convicted juvenile DWI/DUI defendants face up to one (1) year in either a juvenile facility or county jail. Minors with multiple DWI/DUIs or who have caused accidents nearly always receive a jail sentence.

If the teenager’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is between .05 and .07, s/he can be charged with both juvenile and adult DWI/DUI. In these cases, the minor’s DWI/DUI will remain on his/her record into adulthood.

Related Offenses

In many cases, the minor faces additional charges such as:

  • Child endangerment
  • Minor in possession of alcohol
  • Possession of an altered or fictitious identification card
  • Soliciting alcohol from an adult
  • Distributing alcohol to other minors

Refusal to Test

Not unlike adult DWI/DUI suspects, minors who refuse to submit to alcohol testing face a driver’s license suspension for up to three years. One of the responsibilities of having a state driver’s license is implied consent which means that motorists must submit to a breath test if suspected of driving under the influence or face additional criminal and administrative sanctions. Refusal to test oftentimes results in prolonged driver’s license suspensions and additional fines.

Other Consequences

For minors, a DWI/DUI conviction may mean that they must disclose such information on college applications and, in some cases, may not continue their majors in pre-law and education. Some job applications ask applicants to list any prior criminal convictions as well.

For juveniles facing civil proceedings—such as if they caused an accident and amassed other damages—a civil judgment may remain on their record for years, and their future wages may be garnished.

Finally, the social stigma for juvenile DWI/DUI offenders is oftentimes great.

Minnesota Juvenile DWI/DUI Laws

According to Minnesota Statutes section 169A.33, it is a misdemeanor for anyone under the age of 21 to operate a motor vehicle with any amount of alcohol in his/her system. Potential penalties include up to 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000. Additionally, a first-time juvenile offender faces a 30-day driver’s license suspension that increases to 180 days for a second offense. If an unlicensed minor driver violates this law, the court may place additional restrictions on the offender’s ability to obtain a driver’s license in the future.

Minnesota treats 16- and 17-year-old drivers like adults and, consequently, they will face prosecution in adult court and receive adult penalties.