Drinking alcohol for the first time is a popular rite of passage to adulthood. This is understandable, as New Jersey’s laws prohibit minors from consuming alcoholic beverages until the age of 21. Underage drinkers can face severe penalties for breaking the law.
But underage drinkers can face even more punishments if officers catch them driving while intoxicated (DWI). What are these penalties, and how do they interact with New Jersey’s law on underage drinking?
State law on underage DWI
Officers can only charge an adult drunk driver with DWI if the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is at least .08% during the traffic stop test.
But under New Jersey’s zero tolerance law, anyone under 21 years of age who uses a motor vehicle with a BAC level between .01% and .08% can already face penalties. The underage driver won’t be charged with DWI yet, but a court can prohibit them from obtaining a license for up to 90 days beginning on the date they become eligible to obtain a license, or the conviction date (whichever is later). The driver will also have to perform up to 30 days of community service and complete an alcohol education and highway safety program.
Underage drivers whose BAC is 0.08% or higher can face the same DWI charges levied against adult drivers. Depending on the level of intoxication, officials can suspend an underage driver’s license for up to six months, and the driver will also have to pay as much as $400 in fines. A court might also require the underage driver to have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle as a condition for a restricted license application.
A young driver can also face charges for violating underage drinking laws. Underage drinking is a disorderly persons offense, which is a criminal misdemeanor that carries a $500 fine on conviction. Officers may also refer the underage driver to community-driven social services for rehabilitation.
Criminal convictions for DWI and underage drinking can stay on a minor’s record for years and can impact their educational, financial, and employment opportunities in the future.
Underage drinking and driving don’t mix. Young drivers facing drunk driving charges should carefully consider their legal options with the help of their parents or guardians because their futures are on the line.