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What is a “zero tolerance” DUI law?

By Spodek Law Group | February 26, 2017
(Last Updated On: May 27, 2023)

Last Updated on: 27th May 2023, 12:16 pm

There are many different components to the average DUI law, but the legal system has a specific classification for drivers under the influence who are below the age of 21. If a driver is below the legal age to drink alcohol, he or she is treated differently under the law if they are found to be driving under the influence. This is referred to as a zero tolerance law, and this is further explained below.

Zero Tolerance and DUI Explained

As you are likely are aware, it is against the law for individuals under 21 years of age to either purchase or be in the possession of any type of alcoholic beverage. This is true throughout all 50 of the states and in the District of Columbia. Zero tolerance relates specifically to this demographic group. While individuals over the age of 21 can have a certain level of alcohol in their blood before being declared legally impaired, no such allowance it give to someone under the age of 21. Any level of alcohol in the blood can result in a DUI charge being levied by a law enforcement official.
Zero tolerance laws essentially make the DUI or DWI charge possible for a driver order 21 years of age with even the most minute levels of alcohol being present in their system. This means that a blood alcohol content level from 0.00 to 0.02, depending on the state the charged is levied in, can results in a young driver being charged with a DUI. What starts out as an innocent glass of wine at the family dinner can result in a serious charge being issued. The intent of zero tolerance laws is to highlight the serious problem of underage drinking, but some young drivers end up getting caught in the nuances of the policy.

Rationale Behind Zero Tolerance DUI Related Laws

It is well documented that young people are disproportionately killed in auto related accidents. Of those who die between the age of 15 and 20, more then one third are believe to perish as the result of a vehicular crash. Of those accidents, some 35 percent are alcohol related in one way or another. Because of these two factors alone, it has been found that underage drinkers are involved in alcohol related car accidents at more than twice the rate as those drivers aged over 21.
The zero tolerance law related back to the National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995. This law actually requires that each state consider drivers under the age of 21 to be considered under the influence if their blood alcohol content level is found to be 0.02 percent or lower. If a state were to not do this, they would lose access to Federal money for highways. Since that point, all states in America have obliged with the Act and this means that police officers do not have to prove a young driver is intoxicated. They simply have to show that even the most minute level of alcohol has been consumed.

In Summary

The basis for zero tolerance laws is solid. Something had to be done to legally deal with the number of underage drivers getting behind the wheel of a car drunk. The results are promising, with some states revealing statistics that fatalities in this age group as the result of drunk driving has decreased by 20 percent. While this is certainly promising, it does not reveal the legal turmoil that some young drivers have had to face because of one innocent mistake that leaves them subject to a DUI due to zero tolerance laws.
If you or a family member has been charged with underage DUI, contact a professional lawyer in your area for a consultation. You do have legal rights and they deserve to be protected.

How to Avoid a DUI Arrest

Choosing to drive while under the influence of alcohol or any other substance that can impair your judgement is never a good idea. At best, you have put the lives of everyone else on the road in danger. At worst, you could be pulled over by the police or contacted by the police after an accident. This could lead to an arrest for driving while under the influence. What are some ways that you may be able to avoid being taken into custody for DUI?

Comply With An Officer’s Requests
The easiest way to get taken into custody is to ignore an order or to become combative when asked to do something. You should also avoid being too chatty or exuberant as that may also be a sign that you are impaired. If you are being pulled over by an officer, your first act of compliance is to pull over to the side of the road.
You should never leave a vehicle unless asked to do so, and you should agree to take a breath or blood test voluntarily. Assuming that you are under the legal limit, this should help you build a rapport with the officer and make it more likely that you will be let go. If you have any medical conditions that may mimic the symptoms of impairment, mention them when first contacted.

Know What the Legal Limit In Your Area Is
In all 50 states, the legal blood alcohol limit while operating a motor vehicle is .08 percent. While you may be arrested even if your BAC is lower than that, the odds are greatly reduced that you would be prosecuted in court for DUI. You should also be aware of any other substances such as THC or active ingredients in prescription medication that may enter your body.
This is because you are responsible for anything that you take, and some chemicals may linger days or weeks after you use them. If you can explain why a certain substance is in your bloodstream, it may be possible to avoid an arrest. Generally, an officer won’t take you into custody if you don’t pose a danger to yourself or others.

Pass Field Sobriety Tests
Walking in a straight line, reciting the alphabet backwards or following a light without moving your head may increase the odds of not being arrested for DUI. While field sobriety tests are not conclusive proof of impairment on their own, an officer may use the results to further justify his or her decision to take you into custody.
If you don’t hear an officer’s command or have any questions about what you need to do, don’t hesitate to ask. In this scenario, confusion may be seen as a sign of impairment, and you don’t want to go to jail for something that you didn’t do.

Don’t Keep Beer or Other Contraband In Your Car
Having open beer cans in your car is against the law in almost every state. It may also make an officer believe that you have been drinking either while driving or at some point in the recent past. If you have marijuana or other drug paraphernalia in your vehicle, it may also make an officer think that you have been using either while driving or at some point recently. Even if you have done nothing wrong, it may create the perception that an officer needs to take you into custody as a public safety matter.

Have Someone Else Drive For You
The easiest way to avoid getting arrested for DUI is to have someone else drive if you are too impaired to do so. In some cases, having someone else in the car who can drive for you may convince an officer to let you go as long as the passenger is willing to take over.
If you are pulled over or make contact with an officer who believes that you are impaired, it is important that you know your rights. In most cases, you are under no obligation to say or do anything, and calling a lawyer may be the first step that you should take if you are charged with DUI.

What is a Breathalyzer?

Everyone knows a little something about a DUI arrest. You know you don’t want to get pulled over drinking and driving, because you will be arrested. You also know you shouldn’t drink and driver in the first place, but many people make the mistake of assuming their tolerance for alcohol is more important than their blood alcohol level, and it gets them in trouble. If you find yourself driving after a few drinks with flashing lights behind you, you want to know the answers to a few questions before you find out the hard way. One of the most common questions you’ll want to ask is what a breathalyzer is.

What is a Breathalyzer?
It’s not fancy. A breathalyzer is a device used to determine your blood alcohol level. You blow into a small machine placed at your mouth by a police officer when you’ve been pulled over, and the machine analyzes your breath sample. Technically, this little device doesn’t measure your blood alcohol level. It measures your blood alcohol content. This is entirely different in that it only measures the amount of alcohol on your breath. This gives police officers an idea of how much you may have consumed before getting behind the wheel of your car, and they then determine whether to test your blood for your blood alcohol level. This is what determines who much alcohol is in your system and whether you’ve exceeded the legal limit.

When is a Breathalyzer Used?
It’s most commonly used at checkpoints on evenings drunk driving is more prevalent. For example, officers tend to set up checkpoints on New Year’s Eve, the Fourth of July, and other holidays in which people tend to drink all day and then go home at night. It’s when they choose to find those who aren’t obeying the law and make them pay for their crimes.

This isn’t the only time a breathalyzer is used. It can be used by an officer at any point in time if he or she suspects a driver is under the influence of alcohol. One of the most dangerous things you can do is assume you know the law regarding a breathalyzer, as you can make a grave mistake in assuming you know your rights.

Refuse it or Take it?
One of the biggest mistakes people make when pulled over for driving under the influence is refusing a breathalyzer. The law is different in every state, but many states implement an immediate six-month license suspension for anyone who refuses to take a breathalyzer. Others end up in more trouble when they refuse it, and may people find they are arrested regardless and their refusal is used against them to indicate guilt during their court hearing.
In many states, an officer can call for a warrant forcing you to submit to a breathalyzer on the scene if you refuse. This means you’re going to be in more trouble. It’s a double-edged sword if you have been drinking, but it’s almost always a better idea to take the breathalyzer test and go from there.

How to Handle a DUI?
If you’ve been arrested for a DUI, the first thing you want to do is call our law offices. We have attorneys on staff who work on DUI cases for a living. We have the knowledge and experience to help you figure out what to do next, how to handle your situation, and how to get your case heard or even thrown out. If you have been drinking and driving and it’s been proven your blood alcohol level is higher than the legal limit, you’re going to end up in trouble. We can help you avoid the harshest penalties for your actions.

Do not speak to the officers who pull you over, do not do anything until you call an attorney. Anything you say to the officer who pulls you over is recorded and used against you. Don’t mistake your rights if you haven’t been issued a Miranda. Your arresting officer is only required to read the Miranda to you when you’ve been arrested. They can still use your word against you prior to the reading of the Miranda. Call an attorney and get the best help.

What is “blood alcohol content” (BAC) or level?

The number of drinks it takes for someone to reach this level depends on many factors, including type of alcohol, body weight, gender, and how quickly the person drinks. If you are arrested for a DUI, it’s important to understand how blood alcohol content is measured and how to craft a defense.

How BAC is Measured

There are two primary tests law enforcement use when a driver is suspected of being under the influence of alcohol: the breath test or breathalyzer and a blood test.
A breath test can be administered at the scene by measuring the amount of alcohol on the person’s breath and using it to estimate the percentage of alcohol in the person’s blood. Breath tests are noninvasive, but they do not actually measure alcohol in the blood. They are also the easiest to challenge. Breath test results may be challenged on the grounds that the machine was not calibrated properly, that the machine was not carefully maintained, or that the officer was not properly trained in its use, for example.
A blood test offers the most accurate measurement of someone’s blood alcohol content and the results of blood tests are usually favored by prosecutors and law enforcement. Blood tests are generally administered at a police station or lab when a trained professional draws blood from someone suspected of a DUI. The sample must then be analyzed by a qualified technician.

Factors That Impact BAC

BAC is merely the percentage of alcohol in the blood. The rate at which someone absorbs alcohol can be affected by many factors. This means that having three drinks over an hour can give one person a BAC of 0.07% but another person a BAC of 0.09%. Factors that influence how quickly someone becomes intoxicated or metabolizes alcohol include:

  • Weight
  • Body type (such as percentage of fat and muscle)
  • Gender
  • How fast the alcohol is consumed
  • Type and strength of the alcohol
  • Whether the drink was carbonated
  • Amount of food consumed and when
  • Some types of medication
  • Certain medical conditions

New York Law and Driving Under the Influence

Under New York law, there are two primary drunk driving charges: DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) and DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired).
A DWI means the driver was legally intoxicated with a blood alcohol content at the legal limit of 0.08% or higher. A DWAI means the driver’s BAC was between 0.05% and 0.07% or there was evidence the driver was impaired. A DWAI is specific to the substance that caused the impairement such as DWAI-Alcohol or DWAI-Drugs.
A DWAI is usually less severe than a DWI. A first-time DWAI conviction can mean a fine of up to $1,000, up to 3 years of probation, up to 1 year in jail, and a minimum license suspension of six months. Penalties for a DWI conviction are similar but people convicted of a DWI conviction are required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on their vehicle for one year. This device is basically a breathalyzer.
DWI can be charged if a driver is found to have a BAC of:

  • 0.08% or higher for a driver 21 years old or older
  • 0.04% for someone with a commercial driver’s license (CDL)
  • 0.02% for someone younger than 21 years old

If you have been arrested for DUI and a blood or breath test have shown a BAC of 0.08% or higher, it’s important to consult with an experienced New York defense attorney as soon as possible to begin building your defense.

A breathalyzer is a device used to determine blood alcohol content (BAC) by measuring the amount of alcohol on a person’s breath. It is commonly used during suspected DUI cases or at checkpoints when drunk driving is highly prevalent. In all 50 states, a BAC of .08 percent or higher is considered legally impaired while operating a motor vehicle. Refusing a breathalyzer test can lead to consequences such as immediate license suspension. Knowing one’s rights and state laws is crucial when facing a potential DUI charge.

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