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The lower drinking limit for underage drivers

Anyone caught driving with a blood-alcohol concentration above the legal limit may be detained by the police on suspicion of drunk driving, but the legal limit is different for those younger and older than 21. People who are 21 and older cannot register a BAC of .08 percent or greater, but it is illegal for people under 21 to have any alcohol in their system. Oklahoma and all other states enforce zero-tolerance laws that penalize underage motorists who drive under the influence of alcohol.

Since it is against the law for those younger than 21 to consume or purchase alcohol, those with even a small BAC percentage can face a DUI charge in order to deter underage drinking. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that alcohol played a role in 35 percent of deaths among 15- to 20-year-olds involving a motor vehicle accident. Underage drinking increases the risk of fatal wrecks, and underage drivers abuse alcohol about two times more than legal drinkers.

Fatal crashes generally occurred less in states with stricter BAC limits for underage drivers, so drivers under 21 could face a DUI conviction with a BAC between .00 and .02 percent or more in all states. Proving that a person under 21 is driving drunk is different than proving intoxication in adults, as a BAC of .02 percent or lower may qualify as a per se offense for a minor.

It is much easier to be convicted for an underage alcohol-related driving offense, and such a conviction may lead to long-lasting consequences. Any procedural mistakes made by law enforcement could help one's case, and an attorney may negotiate a lesser charge on one's behalf.

Source: Findlaw, "Why Have Zero Tolerance Laws?", December 23, 2014

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