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The Consequences of Underage Drinking and Driving

It’s no secret that many teenagers experiment with alcohol. In fact, minors between the ages of 12 to 20 drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the U.S each year, and more than 90 percent of that amount is consumed by binge drinking. Binge drinking is when large quantities of alcohol are consumed in a short time, such as a few hours.

While some teens think underage drinking isn’t a big deal, it has been shown to have irreversible adverse effects on brain development. Even more dangerous is underage drinking and driving. Teens might think it’s okay to get behind the wheel after a few drinks because they don't feel like they are impaired. 

However, youth are more likely to miss signs of impairment and make the choice to drive even though they are legally impaired. Whether your state calls it underage DUI, OWI, or DWI, the combination of underage drinking and driving is dangerous. The health risks and legal consequences drastically increase when underage drinking and driving are combined.

The hard reality is that one in five teens involved in a fatal crash has been consuming alcohol. Let’s examine some of the consequences of underage drinking and driving, and look at one proven way to prevent it.

Drunk Driving Charges Under 21

Drunk driving is illegal in all 50 states. So is drinking under the age of 21. This means that underage drunk drivers face penalties for breaking at least two laws, which means the legal consequences for underage drinking and driving are severe. 


While punishments vary by state, legal penalties for an underage drunk driving charge can include:

  •  Major fines
  • A revoked or suspended driver’s license for a prescribed period
  • Incarceration in jail or juvenile detention

The severity of these penalties depends on state laws, any prior convictions and the driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at the time of arrest. If this is their second or subsequent charge for underage drinking, they will likely face more stringent penalties.

Some court systems may offer more leniency for underage offenders under the conditions of a first arrest if their BAC at the time of the arrest was low. If the court is lenient, they may offer alternatives to incarceration like community service, alcohol or drug treatment programs and probation.

Not only are these alternatives much more pleasant than jail or juvenile detention, but they may also help with your teen's drunk driving conviction expunged from, or left off of their legal record. Alternatively, this is much not the same opportunity in situations of repeat DUI charges.

Keep in mind that the consequences of underage drinking and driving can be far-reaching, potentially negatively affecting applications to colleges, scholarships and jobs as long as the conviction remains on your record.

Zero-tolerance Laws

Zero-tolerance laws are an important variation to drunk driving statutes for underage drivers. The typical legal BAC limit for drivers over age 21 is 0.08 percent. For drivers under 21, that BAC limit is typically lower, showing less legal tolerance for driving after consuming alcohol for drivers under 21.


Most states have under-21 BAC limits of .03, .02 or .01, meaning that underage drivers can have consumed fewer drinks than drivers over 21 and still be over the legal limit. Other states’ zero-tolerance laws prescribe a BAC of zero.


These laws are designed to make underage drivers think twice about getting behind the wheel after drinking no matter how little alcohol they’ve consumed, knowing that the presence of even a minimal amount of alcohol in their body is sufficient for major legal trouble. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found a strong link between the adoption of zero-tolerance laws and reduced underage drinking and driving and underage traffic fatalities.

Voluntary Car Breathalyzers for Teens

Intoxalock offers voluntary ignition interlock devices (also called IIDs, or car breathalyzers) for teen drivers to prevent drunk driving. Able to be installed in any vehicle, Intoxalock voluntary ignition interlock devices are the only sure way to keep the young person in your life from drinking and driving, since drivers must provide an alcohol-free breath sample prior to starting the vehicle.

These devices provide peace of mind, teach safe driving habits, combat the effects of peer pressure, decrease the chance of alcohol consumption and aid sobriety for teens suffering from addiction. Because no government officers need to access or monitor the device, Intoxalock can offer special lower pricing for voluntary IIDs.

We Are Here To Help

Intoxalock offers voluntary ignition interlock devices that are easy to use, competitively priced and provide peace of mind. For questions about our devices, how to get started or where to install a device, call a 24/7 customer support representative at (844) 677-9243.


Category: Drunk Driving

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