What Zero Tolerance Means For Underage Drivers In New York

What Zero Tolerance Means For Underage Drivers In New York

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6 minutes

New York is no different from the other 49 states: drivers found guilty of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs are in big trouble.

But in certain states - including New York - young drivers may be subject to additional regulations and penalties. Known as the Zero Tolerance Law, the accompanying rules are specifically aimed at drivers under 21. The meaning is that any young driver who has alcohol or drugs in their blood - regardless of how minuscule the amount - is guilty of an offense.

But what does zero tolerance mean in the real world? Does zero mean zero, or is there any leeway? This article has the answers. Moreover, it also covers the different legal scenarios for drivers under and over 21, the penalties for driving under the influence, and how legislation in New York differs from other states. Read on to uncover the essential information for both young and old drivers.

Does Zero Tolerance Really Mean Zero Tolerance?

From the name, you might expect that zero tolerance means just that: if you test positive for even the smallest amount of alcohol in your blood, the laws apply. Those are the very rules in DC and seven states.

However, the remaining 43 states give a small amount of leeway and only prosecute a young driver if they have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level of between 0.02% and 0.07% (or from 0.01% in New Jersey).

That lower BAC figure shouldn’t give young drivers a false sense of security. Just one small drink might be all it takes to make the threshold apply. Rather than take any risks, the simplest and safest approach is to abstain from drinking if you’re driving.

What The Zero Tolerance Law Sets Out To Achieve

Zero tolerance aims to reduce, or better still, stamp out impaired driving by people aged under 21. While young people are less likely to drive under the influence than older adults, the downside is that younger drivers are more likely to have an accident when they’re impaired by alcohol or drugs.

The overarching point is straightforward: no matter if you’re young or old, you should avoid drinking and driving.

Over 21? How Zero Tolerance Applies To You

In some ways, you could argue that the Zero Tolerance Law, aimed at young drivers, is poorly named. There should be zero tolerance for drunk or impaired driving at all ages, regardless.

In practice, that’s the case. Defendants found guilty of drunk driving can expect to feel the total weight of the law. It’s just that you can face additional charges if you’re under 21.

What Makes New York Different From Many Other States?

Laws, regulations, and procedures vary across every state, and that’s the case with drunk driving. The laws surrounding a DWI (driving while intoxicated) in New York are in line with the majority of other states: so that means zero tolerance for young drivers with a BAC of 0.02% to 0.07%, prosecution for a BAC of over 0.08% (this is called the “per se” limit), and aggravated charges for a BAC exceeding 0.18%.

Some states have higher or lower thresholds for aggravated charges, but the fundamental differences are in the severity of the sanctions, consequences, and penalties across different states.

There’s one final area where New York differs from other states. Drivers who record a BAC of between 0.05% and 0.08% may also face DWAI (driving while ability impaired) charges. However, to charge you with this offense, the prosecution must provide additional evidence that your driving abilities were impacted.

The Penalties You Can Expect As An Underage Driver

If you’re found guilty under the Zero Tolerance Law, you’re looking at a suspended license for six months, plus a $125 civil penalty and a $100 fee to terminate the suspension. If you refuse a chemical test or are guilty of a repeat offense, you’ll also face stiffer penalties.

Drivers under 21 who’re found guilty of a DWI or DWAI generally face the same penalties as a mature driver.

DWI and DWAI: Is The Punishment Different?

In New York, there are various charges for impaired driving, depending on the severity of the offense. The most severe charge is for an aggravated DWI, followed in decreasing seriousness by a DWI, DWAI (alcohol, drugs, or combination), and zero tolerance. You can also face additional charges for refusing a breathalyzer test or if you’re a commercial driver. 

If you engage in a more serious driving offense, the accompanying punishment will be that much harsher. You can also expect much more significant penalties for subsequent offenses. Sanctions in New York include a sliding scale of fines, jail time, and how long your license is revoked. You may also face certain surcharges.

There’s one final point: some states differentiate between a DWI and a DUI (driving under the influence). DUI in this context refers to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, whereas a DWI covers just alcohol. In New York, a DUI and DWI effectively amount to the same thing. It’s worth noting that the laws apply regardless of whether your driving is impaired by alcohol, prescription or over-the-counter medication, recreational drugs, or a combination of any of those.

Get Legal Representation On Your Side

The same rules apply whether you’re facing a zero-tolerance charge or an aggravated DWI. You should follow certain steps, and it’s likely in your best interest to remain silent and contact an experienced lawyer. A DWI attorney can explain all your options and outline the best course of action.

A trusted attorney will help ensure that all your rights are protected and may even be able to negotiate a plea bargain on your behalf, for example, by reducing your charge to reckless driving or a wet reckless.


Bottom Line

Any DWI charge is a serious matter, with significant consequences if you’re found guilty. If you’re facing charges, the experienced team at Marble can answer any questions you have, as well as provide quality legal advice. Call us now for a free case assessment to discuss all your options.

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