With Justin Bieber’s recent arrest for drunk driving in Florida, issues of underage impaired driving laws have garnered front-page news. Many people were especially surprised following the pop star’s arrest after it was revealed that his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was actually far less than 0.08 percent, the state’s limit for drivers 21 and older.
So how could Bieber be charged if his BAC was below the commonly understood legal limit? The reason is that in Florida, just like here in Minnesota, there are different rules for drivers under 21 than for drivers 21 and older. Many people simply assume the 0.08 percent limit that is often discussed applies across the board, a mistake that can lead to sometimes-serious legal consequences.
In Minnesota, the law, found in Minnesota Statute Section 169A.33, clearly says that it is illegal for a driver under 21 to operate a motor vehicle while there is physical evidence of consumption of alcohol in the person’s body. So what exactly does this mean? It means that in Minnesota it is illegal for driver under 21 to operate a car with any alcohol at all in their system.
This rule is referred to as a zero tolerance policy or “not a drop” law. That’s because young drivers can be arrested and charged with driving under the influence if a test confirms that they have even a drop of alcohol in their system. The 0.08 percent limit does not apply to drivers under 21.
Young drivers who are arrested under the “not a drop” law face license suspension in almost all cases if it is later determined that they consumed alcohol before driving. The law says that if a young driver is found guilty of violating the law, his or her license will be suspended for 30 days for first time violations and 180 days for additional offenses. If the teen’s BAC is discovered to exceed 0.08 percent (the legal limit for adult drivers), then the young driver will face adult consequences. The same laws that apply to adults will then be applied to the young driver, meaning fines, court costs, community service, license revocation and even jail time are possible.
Another important thing to understand when discussing underage drivers in Minnesota is that their cases will typically be handled in adult court. Only drivers younger than 17 will have the matter decided in juvenile court; the rest can expect to see ordinary judges in an ordinary courtroom situation, something that can intimidate many parents and minors. Though you may feel intimidated, know that young offenders have the same right to representation as adult offenders given the real consequences that are on the line.
Source: “Understanding Minnesota Traffic Law for Drivers Under Age 18,” published at DPS.MN.Gov.