Underage drinking and driving is taken very seriously in the U.S. Teens who get caught driving under the influence of alcohol can land in considerable legal trouble.

What Is a DUI?

A DUI (or “driving under the influence”) is a legal citation that is given when someone is caught driving while under the influence of a mind-altering substance, especially alcohol. Since the ramifications of driving drunk are grave, recipients of this charge are often subject to serious legal consequences.

Strict laws exist for good reason — each day, 27 people in this country die due to drunk driving accidents. Teen drinking stats from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that about 20% of teenage drivers involved in fatal crashes test positive for alcohol use. Whether a teen ends up in the back of a cop car or adds to our country’s emergency room statistics, the law does not take this behavior lightly.

If a teenage driver aged 16–20 has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more, they are 32 times more likely to die in a car accident than if they were driving sober.

What Happens if Your Child Gets an Underage DUI?

Largely, DUIs are given out during traffic stops or after an accident has taken place. When a teen driver is pulled over, if police suspect that they may have been drinking, they will be subject to a blood alcohol content (or BAC) breath test. If any alcohol is detected on the driver’s breath, they will be taken into custody and their vehicle will be towed. The driver must pay all towing expenses.

If a teen is involved in an accident and requires medical attention, their life is always the first concern. Officers are more interested in getting an accident victim to safety than testing BAC right then and there. However, once the driver has been taken to the hospital, their medical provider may later be legally compelled to disclose their BAC to law enforcement. (Due to privacy laws, this personal medical information is only disclosed if it is court-ordered.)

One in 10 high schoolers drinks and drives.

Zero Tolerance Laws

Most states have zero tolerance laws, which slap hefty penalties on persons under age 21 who drive with alcohol in their bloodstream. In these states, if a teen is pulled over and any amount of alcohol is found in their system, they will automatically be charged with a DUI.

There are numerous legal penalties for underage DUIs, including but not limited to the following:

  • Fines
  • Probation
  • Community service
  • Loss of driver’s license (often for an entire year)
  • Mandatory alcohol education with a treatment professional
  • Jail time

Almost every DUI citation results in fines, the loss of a driver’s license, lengthy probation and mandatory alcohol education. And although it is rare, some teens have even been given jail time after their very first drunk driving offense. This penalty is usually reserved for serious cases wherein a teen’s drunk driving has resulted in a fatality.

Though some teens may be able to get their DUI expunged from their permanent record, that is not always possible, even with the help of excellent attorneys.

Generally speaking, the younger the teenager, the less severe the consequences. However, those who get a DUI under 21 but over 18 are legally treated as adults.

Long-Term Impact of an Underage DUI on Future

In addition to the legal consequences of a DUI, there are countless ways that this citation can impact a teen’s life.

  • Some schools expel or otherwise punish students who are charged with underage drinking and driving.
  • It is often more difficult to get into college with a DUI charge. Additionally, it may put some college scholarships out of reach.
  • Charges may show up if a potential employer performs a background check, making it harder to secure a job.
  • The long-term lack of a driver’s license can severely limit your teen’s job prospects, and put a damper on their social life.

As a whole, American teens drink and drive 2.4 million times every month.

How Much Does an Underage DUI Cost?

In addition to the legal, social and academic consequences of a DUI, this citation can take a sizeable financial toll:

  • Fines and Lawyer Fees – Even first-time offenders may pay $4,000 or more.
  • Increased Insurance Costs – Getting a DUI under 21 years old usually lands a young person two points on their driving record, which remain in place for 13 years. Over this time, your teen may pay an extra $40,000 to be an insured driver.
  • Alcohol Education Classes – Your teen will need to pay several hundred dollars for tuition. In some regions, tuition is upwards of $600.
  • Medical Bills and Car Repairs/Towing Due to Accident – These costs can vary significantly. They are never cheap.

Does Your Teen Need Alcohol Abuse Treatment?

If you are beginning to recognize alcohol abuse in your child or if they’ve recently gotten a DUI, it is time for you to take a close look at the situation. It may be tempting to brush this incident off as “normal teen stuff” or “just a one-time thing,” but a DUI indicates that your child may be dealing with a problem much graver than legal trouble: addiction.

At TheRecoveryVillage.com, we understand that this is a very stressful time for you as a parent. That’s why we want to be here for you. We can help you determine whether your teen is dealing with alcohol dependence, assist you in finding a local counselor who specializes in substance abuse, or provide you with a list of vetted addiction treatment options.

We know it can be difficult to reach out — especially when it requires a level of coping with the stigma of addiction. Don’t blame yourself or your child; addiction is a disease. Together, we can help fight it. Take the first step towards healing your child by calling us today.


Vital Signs: Drinking and Driving Among High School Students Aged ≥16 Years — United States, 1991–2011.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 Oct. 2012. Web. 16 Sept. 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml[…]htm?s_cid=mm6139a5_w

“Teen Drinking and Driving.” VitalSigns. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oct. 2012. Web. 16 Sept. 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/teendrinkinganddriving/

“Drunk Driving Statistics & Facts.” Stritch School of Medicine. Loyola University Chicago, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2016. http://www.stritch.luc.edu/depts/injprev/transprt/tran1-06.htm#Illinois

“How Much Does a DUI Cost? | Parents and Guardians | Survive – Stop Yourself. Stop a Friend.” Partner Sites. Administrative Office of the Courts, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2016. http://www2.courtinfo.ca.gov/stopteendui[…]-does-a-dui-cost.cfm

“Alcohol-Impaired Driving.” Research — National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Dec. 2015. Web. 16 Sept. 2016. http://www.madd.org/drunk-driving/about/drunk-driving-statistics.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.