Driving under the influence (DUI) is a factor in most fatal traffic collisions that involve teens. If you’re a teenager’s parent in the state of Washington, our Seattle DUI lawyers ask that you speak frequently with your teenager regarding the dangers of intoxicated driving.

No teenager should be convicted of DUI. It’s a conviction that can shut the door on a variety of educational and employment opportunities. Drinking may also negatively affect a teenager’s health and academic performance.

Without regard to age, the state of Washington makes it against the law for anyone to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

WHAT IS THE DUI LAW IN THE STATE OF WASHINGTON?

Motorists in Washington can be convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) when they are driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08 percent or a concentration of five nanograms or more of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) per milliliter of blood.

And without regard to these measurements and percentages, if someone’s driving is in any way influenced by any amount of alcohol or drugs, that person can be charged with and convicted of driving under the influence.

But what about minors in this state? How does Washington handle underage drinking and driving? If you are under 21 – or if you are the parent of a teenager – you’re about to learn how this state is dealing with its alarming and quite serious underage DUI problem.

WHAT IS “UNDERAGE DUI” IN THIS STATE?

For those below age 21 in Washington, the DUI laws are much stricter. It is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drink alcohol in this state – whether or not that person is driving. Drivers under 21 with a BAC level at or above 0.02 percent can be charged with “underage DUI.”

jail time for underage DUI

A conviction for underage driving under the influence is punishable by up to 90 days in jail (or in a juvenile detention center if the offender is under age 18). A convicted offender can also be fined up to $1,000 and ordered to serve two years on probation.

If you are then charged again as an adult with driving under the influence, your underage DUI conviction is not considered a previous DUI conviction for charging or sentencing purposes, but the conviction is not automatically expunged, thus it remains as part of your criminal record.

CAN A MINOR BE CHARGED WITH “ADULT” DUI?

But if a driver’s BAC content level measures at 0.08 percent or higher – or if a driver’s THC level exceeds five nanograms per milliliter of blood – being a minor does not shield that driver from being arrested and charged with standard “adult” DUI.

Nor does being a minor shield someone from the penalties for a “standard” DUI conviction. A variety of penalties may be imposed.

A first standard DUI conviction in this state may be penalized with a year in jail (actually 364 days) and a substantial fine, but most convicted offenders will serve the mandatory minimum of twenty-four hours in jail and pay a fine of less than $1,000.

WHAT ARE THIS STATE’S OTHER DUI PENALTIES?

Sentencing depends on the details of each particular conviction. If a driver’s BAC level was excessively high, if property was damaged, if anyone was injured, or if the driver refused to take a breathalyzer test, the penalties are harsher.

multiple DUI offenses

Second and subsequent DUI convictions trigger penalties that are incrementally harsher with each conviction. A fifth driving under the influence conviction in this state within ten years is a felony punishable with five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Probation (up to five years), electronic monitoring, alcohol education classes, installation of an ignition interlock device (IID), and a driver’s license suspension are among the penalties available to judges in our state when they impose sentences for “standard” DUI convictions.

WHAT IS THE “ADMINISTRATIVE” PENALTY FOR DUI OFFENDERS?

Also without regard to a driver’s age, the Washington State Department of Licensing imposes two types of driver’s license suspensions for DUI-related offenses.

Any underage or standard DUI arrest will be followed by an “administrative” (rather than a “criminal”) driver’s license suspension – even if the driver is acquitted of the DUI charge by a criminal court. The suspension can run from ninety days to two years.

A criminal conviction for either underage or standard DUI triggers a license suspension that lasts from ninety days to four years. Time completed on an “administrative” license suspension may be applied to a “criminal” license suspension.

underage DUI license suspension

If your driver’s license has been suspended, you may be able to obtain an “IID” license that allows a convicted offender to drive a vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock device during the license suspension period.

HOW CAN PARENTS HELP?

Most teens have a much lower tolerance level for alcohol than adults have. When teens drink, they are much more apt to cause a catastrophic accident – or to be picked up for DUI. Parents can reduce the possibility of underage DUI by enforcing strict rules against driving and drinking.

Research conducted several years ago in Australia (and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health) found that teen drinking declined by about twenty-five percent – in the selected schools where the research was conducted – when parents enforced strict rules against drinking alcohol.

The parents of teenagers should actively monitor the habits of their teens. If your child is charged with DUI or with underage DUI in the state of Washington, you must seek the legal help you need by contacting an experienced Seattle DUI attorney.

HOW PREVALENT IS TEEN DRINKING AND DRIVING?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that over two million times every month in this nation, a teenager chooses to drive after drinking. The CDC also estimates that more than ten percent of the teenagers in the United States drive and drink regularly.

Even one intoxicated teenage driver is one too many. When teenagers are picked up for driving under the influence, there may be long-term legal consequences. And those are the lucky ones. As mentioned previously, alcohol is a leading factor in fatal traffic accidents involving teenagers.

dui lawyer for underage offender

If the case against a teenager is strong, there’s no reason to expect leniency, but a good DUI lawyer can often discredit a prosecutor’s case.

If your teen is charged with underage DUI – or with standard DUI – anywhere in this state, take the case at once to an experienced Seattle DUI attorney. Your child’s future may depend on it. And nothing is more important than our kids.