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Underage drinking: What are zero tolerance laws?

Zero tolerance laws apply to underage drinkers in all states throughout the nation, including South Carolina. In most states, the blood alcohol limit used to establish drunk driving is 0.08 percent. However, zero tolerance laws apply to underage drinkers, and a person under the age of 21 could be charged with Driving Under the Influence if they have a much lower blood alcohol content.

In South Carolina, the blood alcohol limit for underage drivers is 0.02 percent. That means that a 20-year-old driver could get arrested on DUI charges after drinking less than a single beer. It is important for all underage drinkers to be aware of these zero tolerance laws so they can plan ahead and avoid driving after ingesting any amount of alcohol.

A lot of individuals might question the stringency of zero tolerance DUI laws, but lawmakers say they have a good reason for being so strict. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 33 percent of deaths of young people between the ages of 15 and 20 are caused by car crashes. Of those fatal car accidents, approximately 35 percent related to alcohol consumption.

In 1995, the National Highway Systems Designation Act required all states to set their under-21 blood alcohol limit for DUI at 0.02 percent if they wanted to qualify to receive Federal Aid Highway Funds. Interestingly, statistics on the first 12 states to adopt the rule show that those states experienced a 20 percent drop in deadly single-car crashes involving under-21-year-old drivers.

Statistics show that states like South Carolina have seen positive results from more stringent DUI laws. Nevertheless, that does not mean that teenagers and young drivers are not sometimes arrested inappropriately for underage drinking and driving crimes they did not commit. In such cases, those accused of underage drinking crimes can defend themselves in court and try to get their charges dropped and/or dismissed.

Source: FindLaw, "Underage DUI: Zero Tolerance Laws" Oct. 06, 2014

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