The legal drinking age is 21, but that does not stop many younger people from consuming alcohol and getting behind the wheel. Generally, drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher are considered legally intoxicated and may be arrested for driving under the influence. But, according to New York’s “Zero Tolerance” law, minors and adults under the age of 21 who drive with a BAC of .02% to .07% may be stopped for drunk driving.
Because anyone under the age of 21 is not legally allowed to consume alcohol, some people think that the legal BAC limit for people under 21 is 0. Yet, state legislators determined that having a .02% limit gives some leeway to young people who may have consumed alcoholic cough syrup or mouthwash, or drank a small amount of alcohol at a religious or family function.
If an officer stops someone under the age of 21 and suspects them of being under the influence of alcohol, they may require them to take a Breathalyzer test. If the driver refuses, they may face a minimum one year license revocation. If the driver decides to take the test and their BAC is between .02% and .07%, they may be charged with “driving after having consumed alcohol,” which is considered a traffic offense.
The driver may then have to appear before an administrative law judge of the Department of Motor Vehicles for an administrative hearing. Drivers whose blood alcohol level is higher than .05% and less than .08% may be charged with a DWAI, or driving while ability is impaired by alcohol. Finally, if a driver under 21 has a BAC of .08% or higher, they may be charged with a DWI (driving while intoxicated). Both DWAIs and DWIs typically result in an arrest and will be handled in criminal court. Drivers with excessively high BACs (generally over .18%), may be charged with an aggravated DWI.
Juveniles and adults under the age of 21 have a lot to lose if they are convicted of any of the above charges. Many young drivers lose their licenses for an extended period of time, and may face additional consequences, such as fines, required enrollment in the New York Drinking Driver Program, and interlock device installation. If one is a young person facing drunk driving charges, it may be beneficial to contact a criminal defense attorney to defend against these charges.
Source: NY.gov, “Zero Tolerance Law,” accessed on Jan. 15, 2018