Underage Drinking Laws

Underage Drinking Laws

If you live in the United States, federal law states that a person must be 21 or older in order to legally consume or purchase alcohol. As a result of this legislation, state lawmakers have also passed a number of underage drinking laws to punish individuals who violate the national drinking age requirement. Not only do these laws make it illegal for a person under 21 to possess, consume, purchase and/or attempt to purchase alcohol, but they also prohibit underage drivers from operating a vehicle with even a small amount of alcohol in their bloodstream.

The Legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Limit Under 21

Under federal law, a driver is deemed impaired once the percentage of alcohol in his or her bloodstream (a measurement known as blood alcohol content, or BAC) reaches 0.08% or more.  Of course, there’s just one catch: this limit is only applicable if you are legally allowed to consume alcohol. Therefore, if you are under 21, the 0.08% limit does not always apply.

In many states, an underage driver can be arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) if he or she has a BAC of 0.02% or more. However, other states are not quite as lenient, and underage drivers can be charged with DUI for having any amount of alcohol in their bloodstream at all. Indeed, under these “Zero Tolerance Laws,” you can be charged with drunk driving if a chemical test indicates you have a BAC of 0.00% or more.

Misdemeanor Punishments For Underage Drinking

Although most offenses that involve underage drinking—including DUI—are usually classified as misdemeanors, the charge still carries a number of harsh penalties. Depending on the laws in your area, the consequences of violating the legal drinking age may include a large fine, lengthy license suspension, mandatory alcohol treatment, community service, probation, and/or jail time.