Should Penalties Increase for Underage Drunk Driving?

This past July, a state law went into effect that was designed to increase the penalties for underage drunk driving. Normally, the allowed blood alcohol content (BAC) level is .02 for minors, which is in accordance with the federal zero tolerance law. Now, the legal underage BAC level for those from 18 to 20-years-old is .08, the same as any other driver over the age of 21.

At first, this drew a lot of raised eyebrows from critics who wondered why the state would want to increase the amount of alcohol allowable to those under 21. However, state representatives who sponsored the bill say they wanted to raise the penalties of underage drunk driving to be the same as someone over the age of 21 and include 48 hours of jail time. This way, underage drunk drivers could be held to the same standards and level of accountability as every other adult.

Now, the law is the center of even more controversy, as the state may lose $60 million in federal funding for not being in compliance with the zero tolerance laws.

Was Increasing the BAC for Underage Drunk Driving the Wrong Choice?

According to a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were 113 deaths attributed to underage drunk driving in Tennessee alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 are 17 times more likely to die in a drunk driving accident when they have a BAC of .08. That said, it makes little sense for the Tennessee legislature to make it legal for drivers under the age of 21 to drive with higher BAC levels.

While underage drunk driving is a very serious issue and causes thousands of death each year, Tennessee’s law makers might be going about dealing with this problem the wrong way. Increasing the BAC to levels that are 17 times more deadly for that age group seems counterintuitive just to make sure the penalties for underage drunk driving are higher.

Perhaps instead of creating harsher penalties and risking $60 million in federal funding (which the state needs for road improvement projects), state representatives should instead focus on educating teenage drivers about the hazards associated with drinking and driving. Perhaps changes could even be made to teen driver’s education courses. Additionally, spreading awareness and getting parents involved in the conversation early on could help decrease the number of underage drunk driving accidents.

The Law Office of Stanley A. Davis is a Nashville personal injury law firm that helps those injured in drunk driving accidents. Since founding the firm in 1997, Stan has been working to help those hurt due to the negligence of others and offers free consultations.

“This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” 1 John 3:23


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