Drunk driving is one of the most highly regulated activity in any state due to the dangers to the safety of the driver and the community. Both federal and state laws put restrictions on a persons privilege to drive after drinking alcohol. There two types of drinking & driving laws in the country: DUI per se and zero tolerance. In this article, we will discuss these two types in depth.
DUI Per Se Laws
Under the "DUI per se” laws, an individual with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above .08% is automatically considered “intoxicated”. In addition, no additional evidence is needed in bringing about a DWI case against the individual.
Presently, all states have DUI per se laws. It is very important for a driver to be responsible and ensure that their BAC does not reach the legal limit or surpass it. Per se laws meant that individuals need to monitor very closely their alcohol intake if they will be driving after a few drinks, which is something you should never do. Even if your tolerance level for alcohol is high and can drive perfectly well, you can still be held liable under the law just by reaching the legal limit of .08% BAC.
Under the DUI per se laws, it is the BAC that it important, not the ability to drive. It is intended that per se laws make it easier to hold the individual accountable of driving while impaired or intoxicated.
However, it is important to note that DUI per se laws does not mean that all people with a 0.08% BAC face a guilty verdict. One defense that can be raised when faced with a DWI charge is to challenge the validity and procedure used to determine the blood alcohol content level.
Challenges in DUI Per Se Laws
Despite what seems to be an easier job for the prosecution and law enforcement to hold irresponsible drunk drivers accountable, there are still a few challenges with the DUI per se laws.
The first & biggest challenge is the fact that the law does not address the main problem – alcohol and its side effects.
The second challenge is the fact that these laws do not cover impairment due to drugs. This is why a number of states have passed laws addressing driving while under the influence of drugs. These states are Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Three states – Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia – have taken it one step further by establishing specific limits for the presence of intoxicating drugs. The rest of the states have completely outlawed drugs in a drivers’ systems by establishing a zero tolerance rule.
The third challenge, and related to the second, is that the prosecution under per se laws in a drug impairment case faces the difficulty of establishing the presence of the specific prohibited substance in their system. Alcohol usually comes in one form, but that is not the case in drugs. There are certain drugs which can be detected in the body even after a week from the initial use while other types of drugs disappear rather quickly.
Zero Tolerance Laws
According to these drunk driving facts, the National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995 required that states consider a 0.02% or lower BAC for under 21 drivers to be driving under the influence if they want to qualify for Federal Aid Highway Funds. To comply, as all states eventually did, they set the 0.02% BAC level as what is known as a “per se offense” as discussed above.
The states, however, legislated stricter measures in addition to the DUI per se laws. They also implemented zero tolerance laws. These laws make it a criminal DWI offense for minors, those under the age of 21, to drive with even a small amount of alcohol in their system. This is an effort to curb teen drinking and driving incidents.
Therefore, any amount of alcohol in the presence of an underage driver's system will not be left punished. The penalty for this offense is the loss of driving privileges, among others depending on the damage the incident caused.
An early drunk driving conviction can also have an effect on employment opportunities of the offender as employers usually do background checks and a DWI conviction is not erasable. Car insurance coverage can also be cancelled once there is a DWI conviction.
Minors and Drinking
Why are the rules applied to minors stricter? There is a different legal standard for underage drivers compared to adults. For example, they are faced with lower legal limit of BAC levels. Any amount of alcohol in their blood is prohibited.
Aside from the fact that minors are not allowed to drink alcohol under the law, another reason for the zero tolerance is because minors generally cannot handle their alcohol. They have the tendency to be more reckless compared to their adult counterparts when inebriated. Minors also have less experienced driving. When the two characteristics are combined, it can have a disastrous impact on the driver, the people around him, and the community as a whole.
Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that nearly one-third of all deaths of 15 to 20 year old are the result of a motor vehicle crash. Additionally, about 35 percent of those fatalities are alcohol related.
According to the same government agency, the alcohol involvement rate for young drivers is roughly twice that of over 21 drivers. Therefore, it can be concluded that underage drinking, even low levels, can lead to fatal crashes and pose a considerable threat to the community.
One of the most important use of zero tolerance laws, beyond preventing obvious risks to health and safety posed by underage drinking and driving, is the deterrence of the use of alcohol at early age which can have effects on the future of the minors.