You probably know that drunk driving is illegal and has very serious consequences, including fines, license suspension and even jail time. What many teens may not know is that drunk driving laws and penalties are different for those under the age of 21. These are commonly called “Not a Drop” laws, and they are important to understand. They make taking EVEN ONE SIP of alcohol punishable by the law, including suspended license, mandatory breathalyzer installed in your vehicle, fines, DUI classes, and more.
How Not a Drop is Different
Regular drunk driving laws would allow the average adult to consume some alcohol before being considered legally intoxicated. This level is usually set at .08 percent blood alcohol, typically measured by breathalyzer and less frequently by an actual blood test. So long as an adult has not drunk enough to raise their blood alcohol beyond that point, then they are considered safe to drive.
Under Not a Drop laws such as those in Wisconsin, Utah, Minnesota or California, any level of intoxication is considered illegal. This means that a person under 21 cannot consume any amount of alcohol or have any amount of detectable blood alcohol.
Legal Penalty for Violation
A teen found in violation of Not a Drop may face several consequences. For some first-time offenders, they can expect their license will be suspended for 30 days and the will have to pay to get it reinstated. If they are caught a second time, then their license will be suspended for longer and they will have to pay another reinstatement fee. Further violations will probably result in the revocation of the license for a prolonged period of time and a much more complicated procedure for getting it back. The exact consequences for violation may vary by state or jurisdiction.
For example under the California Not a Drop Law we know of one teen who had his license suspended for a full year for his first offense. Yikes!
Beyond the law, the consequences for driving intoxicated are real and serious. Accidents involving drunk drivers kill about 28 people every day according to attorney Dave Abels. A young person is likely to be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol and may be impaired at much lower levels of blood alcohol concentration compared to an adult.
It is also important to note that teen drivers are subject to regular DUI laws in addition to the Not a Drop rules. If a teen driver is found with a blood alcohol concentration over .08 percent, they will face serious consequences similar to and perhaps greater than those faced by an adult. This could include arrest, jail time and loss of a driver’s license for years and the requirement to attend drug and alcohol counseling before the license is restored.
Drunk driving is a serious offense for anyone, but it is especially serious for teens. In areas that have zero-tolerance Not a Drop Laws, it is important that underage drivers never consume any alcohol. The consequences to your future, health and ability to drive are never worth it.
Why so strict?
The fact is, even without drinking, teenagers are statistically bad drivers. As pointed out in the linked article from BMW Law Group:
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019 there were 2,734 teenagers (ages 13-19) who died in the United States from crash injuries – the leading cause of death in that age group.
- The fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16 and 17-year-olds is about 3 times the rate for drivers 20 and older.
- Based on police-reported crashes of all severities, the crash rate for 16 – 19 year-olds is nearly 4 times the rate for drivers over 20.
- Teen crash risk is at its very highest at age 16
- Teen drivers have crash rates nearly 4 times those of drivers 20 and older per mile driven
- The crash rate per mile driven is 1½ times as high for 16-year-olds as it is for 18-19 year-olds
- Alcohol is a factor in many teen crashes
- Crash risk among teenage drivers is especially high during the first months of licensure
- Risky driver in the early licensure period is higher among males
- 27 percent of the young male drivers involved in fatal crashes had been drinking at the time of the crash, compared with 15 percent of the young female drivers involved in fatal crashes
- According to the CA Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV, 2019), the citation rate for 16-year-olds is 1.8 times higher than drivers of all ages
- The citation rate for 16 to 19-year-olds is 2.1 times higher than drivers of all ages
- Graduated licensing reduces teens’ driving risk
- The crash rate for 16-year-olds is 3.7 times higher than drivers of all ages.
- The crash rate for 16 to 19-year-olds is 2.7 times higher than drivers of all ages.
- The citation rate for 16-year-olds is 1.8 times higher than drivers of all ages.
- The citation rate for 16 to 19-year-olds is 2.1 times higher than drivers of all ages.
If teens are already higher risk, it becomes much worse when alcohol is involved. The takeaway: drinking and driving is something to avoid ALWAYS, but ESPECIALLY when you are a teenager.
This post was originally published in July 2017 and updated September 1, 2020 with teen driving statistics.