As the debate continues over whether states should lower the legal blood-alcohol limit from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent, it’s likely to have little impact on Alabama teens.
Our Birmingham underage DUI lawyers know that the change will mean little for under-21 drivers in Alabama, whose legal limit is already at 0.02 percent. For a 160-pound male, that threshold will be reached after consuming less than two beers in an hour.
Consumption of any amount of alcohol by someone under the age of 21 is illegal in Alabama, but one would have to meet that 0.02 percent threshold in order to be considered intoxicated and charged with DUI. The only exception would be if the officer believed you showed obvious signs of intoxication or impairment, regardless of your BAC. That’s unlikely for anything under a 0.02 percent, unless you were also under the influence of another substance.
An underage DUI will be treated the same as any other DUI, per Alabama Code Section 42-5A-191, except that the legal threshold is significantly lower. Penalties for a first-time conviction include up to one-year in jail, a fine of up to $2,100, a 90-day license suspension (unless your BAC was between 0.02 percent and 0.08 percent, in which case it’s a 30-day suspension).
The reason that state laws are so strict with regard to under-21 drivers is that when they are involved in alcohol-related incidents, those incidents tend to be more serious. An interactive chart prepared recently by staff at The New York Times shows under-21 drivers are more likely than older drivers to be involved in fatal, alcohol-related crashes, even at relatively low rates of impairment (under 0.04 percent).
The chart aims to show why reducing legal limits might have an impact on DUI fatalities. Even though the majority of fatalities occur when drivers have impairment levels of 0.08 percent or higher, there are still a fair number that occur among those with lower impairment rates. Most of those, however, involve those under the age of 21.
Drivers under the age of 26 cause the majority of auto fatalities in the U.S., regardless of alcohol consumption. However, of those youthful drivers involved in fatal crashes, more than 20 percent had some level of alcohol in their system, which was a higher percentage than other age groups.
It’s our personal belief that even in cases of fatal crashes where the youth might have been drinking alcohol, inexperience tends to play more of a critical role.
But the supposition that lowering the legal limits will have any impact on that leaves out one important fact: It’s not legal for someone under the age of 21 to drink period. So how will further lowering the legal alcohol limit in a way that won’t directly affect them anyway halt this cohort from drinking before driving?
We doubt that it will.
In fact, political grandstanding on the issue is unlikely to effect any real change with regard to underage drinkers, but it probably will result in more arrests for those who are safely, legally indulging.