A driver’s license is more than just another form of identification; it’s a legal authorization from the state that the bearer of the license can operate their vehicle on public roads. Licenses come with responsibilities, chief among them the responsibility to drive safely and obey traffic laws. This is why driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a criminal offense in North Carolina and other U.S. states because an impaired driver endangers themselves and others through their reckless actions.
But if a driver under 21 commits DWI, they violate both traffic laws and North Carolina’s laws prohibiting underage drinking. North Carolina operates under a “Zero Tolerance” policy, strictly prohibiting any amount of alcohol in the system of an underage driver.
The law on underage drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs
According to state law, it’s illegal for persons under 21 to drive a motor vehicle on a public highway while consuming alcohol or while they’re under the intoxicating effects of alcohol and/or drugs.
Typically, the standard DWI laws for drivers 21 and over have a set blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of .08% for them to face charges. However, there’s no such legal limit for underage drivers – a “zero tolerance” for underage drinking, if you will. If a chemical test reveals that the young driver has even the slightest hint of alcohol, they can be charged with DWI.
The penalties for underage DWI
The penalties for an underage DWI conviction can be severe. An underage driver found guilty of this offense faces a Class 2 misdemeanor charge. This could result in a fine of up to $1,000 and a maximum jail sentence of 60 days. However, community service or probation is a more likely sentence for many first-time offenders.
In addition to criminal penalties, the underage driver also faces administrative punishments. Even before their court hearing begins, the officer charging the driver can revoke their license on the spot for 30 days. On conviction, the driver faces another license suspension for at least a year.
Although limited driving privileges may sometimes be granted for purposes such as school or work, the overall impact on an underage driver’s freedom and independence can be significant. Additionally, a conviction can affect a young person’s college admissions, scholarship opportunities, and future employment prospects.
It’s crucial for young drivers and their parents to understand the gravity of North Carolina’s Zero Tolerance law. If you or someone you know is facing an underage DWI charge in North Carolina, it might be helpful to seek legal advice from a knowledgeable lawyer who can navigate the complexities of DWI law.