The Law on Teenage Drinking and Driving
What is the law on teenage drinking and driving in Florida?
Florida laws on teenage drinking and driving are stricter than for adults. The state of Florida has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking; a person under the age of 21 is not allowed to have a BAC higher than 0.02, as opposed to the legal limit of 0.08 for adults over the age of 21. Since a single drink can result in a 0.02 BAC, this fact reinforces the point that those under the age of 21 cannot lawfully consume alcohol. The bottom line is that teenage drinking and driving can easily have serious consequences.
Impaired driving among teenagers is a growing concern across the nation. Teens may feel a sense of freedom, independence and, unfortunately, invincibility, when they get their driver’s license. Obviously, in an ideal world, those teens would wait until they are legally of age to consume alcohol and would never get behind the wheel after drinking. Unfortunately, peer pressure results in just the opposite on far too many occasions. While drivers under the age of 21 represent only about ten percent of the total number of licensed drivers, they are responsible for at least 17 percent of fatal alcohol-related crashes. More than 2,000 underage drivers die from an alcohol-related crash every year; teenage drunk driving kills as many as seven teenagers every single day in the United States. In 2003, nearly a third of those teen drivers who were killed in an auto accident had been drinking, and, overall, two-thirds of all auto-related teen deaths involve alcohol.
A teenage boy with a BAC of 0.05 (below the “legally drunk” limit of 0.08 for adults), is 18 times more likely to be involved in an auto accident than a teen who is not drinking. For a teenage girl, that number is even higher—she is 54 times more likely to be involved in an auto accident than a female teen who is not drinking. While these statistics are certainly significant, another problem lies in the fact that underage drinkers have a tendency to binge-drink. In some cases, the BAC of underage drivers arrested for DUI have been as high as five times the legal limit (0.40 percent). Underage drinkers are also more reckless and less likely to wear a seatbelt—nearly three-quarters of the young drivers involved in a fatal accident were not wearing a seat belt at the point of impact.
How Alcohol Affects the Brain
Alcohol is a depressant which slows down the central nervous system. When alcohol reaches the cerebrum—the part of the brain which controls thinking and judgment—the brain is less able to make sensible decisions. Alcohol can lower inhibitions, causing young people—or adults—to make riskier decisions. Alcohol also has a negative effect on vision, particularly nighttime vision. Following a significant amount of alcohol, such as occurs in binge drinking, the alcohol reaches the cerebellum which slows reflexes, affecting balance, eye-hand coordination and stability. Vision becomes blurry, there is a loss of depth perception, and the peripheral vision lessens. A person driving in this condition is unable to brake suddenly, and is probably unaware of how closely he or she is to other drivers on the road.
The Far-Reaching Effects of a DUI on Your Teen Driver
Parents who have received the dreaded phone call telling them their teenager has been arrested on charges of DUI in the state of Florida, know just how stressful such a call can be. You are likely anxious about your child and his or her future, and uncertain of who to call and what steps to take. Our modern world, together with high school and college environments can push a teen into encounters with alcohol or drugs. There is a widely-held myth that DUI charges against a minor are not all that serious. In reality, a Florida DUI conviction can have far-reaching effects on your child’s future. As a parent, the goal at this point must be to obtain the most positive outcome—the one with the fewest long-term negative effects.
Additional Penalties Associated With a DUI Conviction
If convicted, your teen will not only face penalties imposed by the Florida justice system, he or she will face independent penalties from a college (if enrolled in college), as well as revocation of financial aid, potential loss of student housing, probation, suspension, possible expulsion and possible loss of scholarships. Some colleges operate under a zero-tolerance policy for DUI charges, while others may take little or no action. Depending on the outcome of your teen’s DUI charges, certain career opportunities, or even the ability to attend graduate school could be hindered. If your teen is still in high school, the independent penalties may be lessened, but he or she could still face severe criminal penalties.
Florida’s Zero-Tolerance Policy for Underage Drinking
The state of Florida has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking; a person under the age of 21 is not allowed to have a BAC higher than 0.02, as opposed to the legal limit of 0.08 for adults over the age of 21. Since a single drink can result in a 0.02 BAC, this fact reinforces the point that those under the age of 21 cannot lawfully consume alcohol. If an underage person in the state of Florida consumes alcohol and is in physical control of a vehicle, the driver’s license of the minor may be automatically suspended for a period of at least six months. If this is a second or subsequent DUI violation, the license could be suspended for a year. Further, if your child is younger than 18, the arresting officer has the option of taking the child to a county addiction facility. If your child tested above 0.05, he or she may be required to complete a substance abuse course before driving privileges will be restored. Results above 0.08 could well land the teen in jail.
What if My Teen Refused a Blood or Breath Test?
If your child refused a blood or breath test, his or her driving privileges could be suspended for a year (for a second refusal, the driving privileges could be suspended for eighteen months). In addition to a license revocation, the minor could spend time in jail, could be sentenced to probation and/or community service, and could be assessed substantial court fees and fines.
Criminal Penalties for a Teen Driver’s DUI Conviction
If this is your teen’s first DUI conviction and his or her BAC is above 0.08 percent, the judge may order jail time for your teen. If it is a second DUI conviction, your teen could be sentenced to ten days or as much as 12 months in jail. For a first DUI conviction, the fines could range from $1,000-$2,000, and for a second DUI conviction, the fines could range from $1,000 to $4,000, depending on the teen’s BAC.
Additional Consequences of a DUI Conviction for a Teen
There are additional consequences of a DUI conviction for a minor, aside from the legal ramifications. Many insurance companies will automatically terminate auto insurance for a minor who receives a DUI conviction. Once your teen has had his or her auto insurance canceled, there may be few insurance companies who will agree to provide insurance. If you are able to secure auto insurance, the premiums could be so high as to be unaffordable. Once your teen’s license suspension is up, the DMV will have to be furnished with an SR-22 certificate in order to prove he or she is once more insurable.
More about Your Teen’s License Suspension
If your minor is charged with DUI, his or her license will likely be suspended immediately, however, in some cases a temporary permit which allows the teen to drive for ten days will be issued. When that ten days is over, there will be no more driving allowed unless a petition has been made to the DMV for an Administrative Review Hearing. The overall length of the time your teen’s license will be suspended will be dependent on the BAC at the time of the traffic stop. If the BAC is between 0.02 and 0.05, and if the offense is a first-time DUI, the suspension will last for six months. If the BAC is above 0.05, the license suspension may remain in effect until your teen turns 21 or until a substance abuse evaluation is conducted and your teen has completed counseling. If your teen is a repeat offender, the suspension will lengthen accordingly.
Potential Defenses to Your Teen’s DUI Charges
Despite the fact that Florida has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking, an experienced Florida DUI attorney may nonetheless be able to build a solid defense for your child. It is important for your teen to be forthcoming about the details surrounding the traffic stop and subsequent arrest. The police officer must have had probable cause to pull your child over, meaning the teen must have violated a traffic law such as weaving across the center line, speeding, or running a traffic signal or stop sign. If there were insufficient grounds for the original stop, the case may be dismissed entirely.
If the stop was justified, there must have been probable cause for the police officer to suspect your teen had been drinking. If the officer could smell alcohol or saw an open container in the vehicle, the requirement was likely met. In other cases the requirement may not have been met. The arresting officer may have failed to properly Mirandize your child, or there could have been problems associated with the Breathalyzer test, which are notable for the number of inaccuracies. The police officer is required to be certified to operate the Breathalyzer test, and the machine is required to be regularly calibrated. There are additional issues which can negate the results of a Breathalyzer test, including a medical condition, prescription medications or a disability.
What Parents Should Know About the Effects of Alcohol on Driving Skills
A teen whose BAC is 0.02 percent (approximately one drink), will be more relaxed, may exhibit an alteration in mood, and may experience some loss of judgment. There may be a decline in visual function, particularly when tracking a moving object. There may also be less ability to perform two tasks at the same time. At a BAC of 0.05 percent (slightly more than two drinks), your teen could exhibit less ability to focus, impairment of judgment, lower inhibitions, exaggerated behaviors, reduced coordination, more difficulty steering and a reduced ability to track moving objects. At a BAC of 0.08 percent—the legal limit for adults—balance, reaction time, vision and speech are all affected. Reasoning, self-control and judgment are impaired, and the teen may exhibit difficulty concentrating and in detecting danger. The teen may also have an impaired perception of surroundings and may lose the ability to rationally control speed in the vehicle. When the BAC of your teen reaches 0.15 percent—twice the legal limit for an adult, and equal to approximately seven to eight drinks—your teen could have slurred speech, deterioration of reaction time and self-control, difficulty steering the vehicle, vastly lowered inhibitions, major loss of balance and coordination, and may even vomit from the alcohol consumption unless a tolerance for alcohol has been built up over time.
Additional DUI Charges
Your child may not only have been charged with DUI. He or she may also be charged with distributing alcohol to minors if there were underage passengers in the vehicle who were also noticeably intoxicated. Your teen could also be charged with minor in possession, child endangerment violations, soliciting alcohol, possession of a false identification, or other moving violations.
Alternative DUI Programs for Underage Drivers
It is wise to ask your Florida DUI attorney about the possibility of an alternative program for your teen which could potentially keep the DUI conviction off the child’s record. These programs are only available in certain counties in the state. Further, if the DMV does suspend your teen’s license, your attorney can help obtain a hardship license for limited driving privileges to school or work. When your teen’s future is at stake, it makes sense to obtain the most knowledgeable legal help possible. Your attorney will build a solid defense designed to reduce the charges against your child. In some cases, your DUI defense attorney can even have the DUI charges dismissed altogether. It is imperative, however, that you contact a Florida DUI defense attorney immediately. Time is of the essence – so don’t delay.