It is illegal in all 50 states to purchase, and even to possess, alcohol if you are under the age of 21. And although it is illegal for anyone to drive under the influence of alcohol, individuals under age 21 are prohibited from driving with even the slightest trace of alcohol in their system. For example, while in most states the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is anything below 0.08 percent for “of age” drivers, a BAC of 0.02 percent or less can result in an OUI if you’re under 21. This law is referred to as Zero Tolerance.
In MA, due to Zero Tolerance Laws, it is a crime for drivers under the age of 21 to operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.02 percent or higher. In layman’s terms, you don’t need to feel drunk—or even buzzed—to get an OUI if you’re under 21 in MA. Although these laws are intended to prevent the dangers of underage drinking, they can sometimes do more harm than good. Imagine, for example, that 20-year-old Brandi is home from college to celebrate her sister’s engagement. To toast her sister’s future, Brandi has a glass of champagne before heading to a local restaurant for a celebratory dinner. On the way there, she gets pulled over because her headlight is out. The officer asks Brandi if she’s been drinking and she innocently replies that she had one glass of champagne. The officer gives her a breath test and it measures her BAC at 0.02 percent. She is arrested and charged with OUI.
Isn’t Zero Tolerance a Little Excessive?
Zero Tolerance laws weren’t created to punish people like Brandi. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), when it comes to fatal car crashes involving 15 to 20-year-old drivers, nearly one-third are alcohol-related. Zero tolerance laws aim to combat this serious problem. Young drivers are about twice as likely to be involved in an alcohol-related crash. A Boston OUI defense lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with an OUI or underage drinking.
And MA is actually a bit more lenient on underage drinking and driving than some other states. The National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995 made it a matter of law for every state in the nation to use a BAC of 0.02 percent or lower when determining if an underage driver can be charged with OUI. In addition, a BAC of 0.02 percent or higher will result in a “per se offense,” which means that intoxication doesn’t have to be proven to charge the individual with OUI.
Zero Tolerance Laws Seem to be Helping
The NHTSA conducted a study of 24 states—12 with Zero Tolerance laws and 12 without—to see if there were any noticeable differences in crashes involving young people and alcohol. The results revealed that Zero Tolerance states had 20 percent less fatal nighttime crashes involving single cars. Considering that nighttime crashes are far more likely to involve alcohol, these results are significant. A MA OUI defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with underage OUI.
The bottom line—if you are under the age of 21, never get behind the wheel if you’ve had anything to drink. You don’t have to be drunk to get an OUI if you are underage. An OUI conviction can have longterm consequences, affecting your ability to get a job and increasing your insurance premiums, to name a few. Continue reading