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The drunk driving laws in New York are some of the toughest ones in the country. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the rules that apply to underage drunk driving. A person under the age of 21 can be detained by the police and charged with a violation of the law for having a blood alcohol content level as low as .02 percent.

Frequently referred to as the Zero Tolerance law, the rules applicable to drivers who are under the state’s legal drinking age of 21 are designed to address the problem of underage drinking and underage driving at the same time. The zero in the name of the law refers to the fact that any amount of alcohol in the blood was supposed to be the level that would trigger a violation, but negotiations in the legislature before passage of the law raised the violation level to .02 percent.

A police officer who believes that a person under 21 years of age has consumed alcohol may detain the person until a breath test can be administered. Depending upon the person’s blood alcohol content level, the following charges may be filed:

  • BAC level between .02 percent and .07 percent: A person may be charged with driving after consuming alcohol which is not a criminal offense and is handled as an administrative hearing.
  • BAC level more than .05 percent but less than .08 percent: Police may charge the person with driving while impaired which is heard in the criminal court.
  • BAC level of .08 percent or higher: A person may be charged with driving while intoxicated in the criminal courts.

Underage drunk driving as an administrative offense can result in a license suspension and civil penalties up to $125. License reinstatement costs an addition $100 administrative fee. The offense remains on the person’s record until he or she is 21 years old. Because of the consequences of underage drunk driving a consultation with a criminal defense attorney could prove helpful.

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