Controversial Tennessee Bill May Cost $60 Million in Highway Funding
The Tennessee state legislature passed a controversial bill in August 2016. Previously, there had been a zero tolerance BAC limit of .02 for young adults aged 18-20, but the legislature raised the BAC to .08. Additionally, the law increased the penalties for underage drunk driving to be the same as for adults.
There are two main problems with the bill, however. First, it is unclear whether greater penalties for underage drunk driving will actually reduce the number of crashes and fatal car accidents. The second problem is that the new bill violates federal zero tolerance laws, which may result in $60 million of federal highway funding being withheld from our state.
Does Increasing the BAC for Underage Drivers Reduce Drunk Driving Accidents in Nashville?
It seems counterintuitive, but the legislature has actually increased the legal BAC limit for drivers 18-20 to increase the penalties. The law had previously been “zero tolerance,” or .02 BAC, being the upper limit for legal driving for minors. The legislature raised the BAC limit to .08 so they could prosecute the DUI cases similar to adults. The raised BAC limit would toughen the potential penalties for violating the law and include jail time.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the percentage of teenage drunk drivers has decreased by 51% across the nation since 1991. This is not to say drunk driving among teens does not remain a problem—it is still a major issue we must face. Yet, there is no evidence that harsher penalties for teen drunk driving is a factor behind this positive trend. The CDC and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has a number of recommendations to reduce underage drinking and driving, none of which include a raised BAC and tougher penalties:
- Crack down on retailers who sell to minors or fail to properly check IDs.
- Zero tolerance laws for teens drinking and driving (this was what Tennessee had before this new law increasing the BAC limit and penalties).
- Graduated driver licensing, whereby teens gain driving privileges such as driving at night or with underage passengers, once they pass certain milestones and prove they are responsible.
- Parental involvement and school-sponsored activities that include alcohol-free events for teens.
Is the Bill Worth $60 Million in Federal Highway Funding?
The other problem with this bill, in addition to the fact that it may not even be effective in reducing drunk driving, is that $60 million in federal highway funding is at stake. Some state lawmakers have already deemed the passing of this bill a “mistake” after realizing the impact on highway funding. Governor Bill Haslam has called for a special legislative session to fix this issue.
What do you think? Is it worth $60 million in federal funding to make the punishments for underage drunk driving more severe? Are there other ways we can reduce instances of drunk driving accidents for teens and adults alike?
Stan Davis is a Nashville car accident lawyer who represents victims of drunk drivers. If you or someone you know has been hit by a drunk driver, understand you do not have to wait for a criminal lawsuit to conclude to speak to an attorney about a civil suit to hold the driver accountable.