Driving under the influence of alcohol has become even more unforgivable in recent years than ever before. In this day of ride shares like Uber and Lyft, the excuses of not being able to find a cab or some other way home no longer fly. With so many ways to get home safely in 2019, it’s inexcusable and unforgivable to get behind the wheel of a car after drinking—at any age—and risk the lives of other people on the road just so you can get home after a few drinks.
What Does Zero Tolerance Mean, Exactly?
Zero tolerance is the practice of adopting laws or policies that call for mandatory enforcement of violations without regard to severity, intent, or extenuating circumstances. In an effort to eradicate driving under the influence (DUI), all 50 states have cracked down on underage drinking and driving with “Zero Tolerance” laws, which make it a criminal DUI offense for drivers under the age of 21 to drive with even a small amount of alcohol in their system, ranging from 0.00 to 0.02% BAC, depending on the state. Depending on a teenager’s weight, just one beer at a party would make them unfit to get behind the wheel of a car. The best way to avoid a Zero Tolerance DUI charge is to never have one sip of alcohol if you have to drive. It’s that simple.
Prior to zero tolerance laws, most states had drunk driving laws that established legal limits for blood alcohol content applicable to all drivers regardless of age.
If a teen driver was found to be drinking and driving, but had a BAC of under 0.08, they would not be guilty of driving under the influence, legally speaking, that is. Depending on the laws in the state they were in at the time of the offense, they may be guilty of consuming or being in possession of alcohol underage but not guilty of DUI.
The Necessity of Zero Tolerance Laws
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), almost one-third of all deaths of 15- to 20-year-olds are the result of a car crash and about 35% of those fatalities are alcohol-related. The alcohol-involvement rate for teen car crashes is approximately twice that of 21 and over drivers, and drinking and driving poses a greater risk of resulting in fatal crashes for teens than adult drivers due, in part, to their lack of experience behind the wheel.
The National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995 mandated that states consider a 0.02 percent BAC (or lower) for under-21 drivers to be driving under the influence in order to qualify for Federal Aid Highway Funds. To comply, as all states eventually have, they had to set 0.02 percent BAC as what is known as a “per se offense, which means law enforcement does not have to prove intoxication as long as the driver is above the stated limit. Even if only a few sips of beer or wine resulted in a BAC of 0.02%, the driver is guilty of driving under the influence in all 50 states.
Zero Tolerance laws work according to an NHTSA study that compared 12 states that had implemented zero tolerance laws to 12 states that had not yet implemented the laws. Those states with Zero Tolerance had a 20% decline in fatal single-car nighttime crash with drivers under the age of 21. As further proof that Zero Tolerance laws work, the biggest declines in fatal crashes occurred in states with underage BAC limits of 0.02% or less, while less impact was seen in states with higher BAC limits. You cannot argue statistics like these. Zero Tolerance laws work.