Just like drivers over age 21, drivers under the age of 21 in New York can be accused of drunk driving. In fact, underage drivers accused of drunk driving may find themselves facing the state's "zero tolerance" laws.
For drivers age 21 or above, the legal limit for their blood alcohol content level is 0.08 percent. However, this limit is much lower for drivers under 21. In fact, drivers under 21 with a mere BAC level of 0.02 percent may be accused of a crime.
The type of crime and the accompanying penalty under the state's zero tolerance laws depends on the underage driver's BAC. For a driver under age 21 whose BAC level is between 0.02 percent and 0.07 percent, that driver may be accused of "driving after having consumed alcohol," which falls under the realm of traffic offenses. The driver will then be ordered to go to an administrative hearing presided by a Department of Motor Vehicles administrative law judge.
For a driver under age 21 with a BAC level between 0.05 percent and 0.07 percent, that driver may be accused of "driving while ability is impaired by alcohol." The police have the discretion as to whether to bring formal charges in criminal court against an underage driver in this situation.
For a driver under age 21 with a BAC level under 0.08 percent but above 0.07 percent, that driver may be accused of DWAI. For a driver under age 21 with a BAC level at or above 0.08 percent, that driver may be accused of "driving while intoxicated." In both of these situations, the accused may be formally charged and have to appear in criminal court.
Zero tolerance laws are taken very seriously in New York. Unfortunately, even an underage driver who has consumed merely one drink may in some cases find themselves facing criminal charges. It is therefore important for underage drivers accused of running afoul of the state's zero tolerance laws to make sure they craft a strong defense.
Source: SafeNY, "Legislation Affects Drivers Under 21 Years of Age," accessed on July 27, 2015