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Underage OWI: Different drunk driving rules for younger drivers

On Behalf of | Feb 23, 2024 | OWI-DUI Defense

In Indiana, operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) is a serious offense. As a criminal offense that usually starts as a misdemeanor, a conviction for OWI leads to jail, fines and a license suspension. For a driver to face OWI charges, their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level must be at least .08%.

But what happens if an officer pulls over a driver under 21 for a suspected OWI? The legal drinking age in Indiana is 21, so the state can be particularly strict on underage persons caught driving drunk because they technically violate two state laws.

The zero-tolerance policy

According to Indiana law, there’s a different legal BAC limit that applies to drivers under 21. Minors can face OWI charges for having a BAC of just .02%, much lower than the standard .08%. This is because Indiana, like other U.S. states, has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to underage drinkers. Even the smallest hint of alcohol on an underage drinker will trigger criminal charges.

The penalties for underage OWI

Unlike an OWI for adults aged 21 and above, an underage OWI is a Class C infraction. The penalties on conviction include up to $500 in fines and a one-year license suspension; there’s no jail time. But a court may order the young driver to serve time in a juvenile detention center.

Underage drivers who go above the legal BAC limit of .08% for adults can face Class C misdemeanor charges instead. A conviction for this offense leads to up to 60 days in jail and $500 in fines. The court can also order the suspension of the driver’s license for up to two years.

Apart from the penalties, an OWI conviction can have a lasting impact on a young person’s life. The criminal record can hurt the minor’s educational opportunities, scholarship eligibility, and future employment prospects.

An OWI conviction is devastating enough for adult drivers, but its impact is far worse on younger motorists, whose futures may be impacted by their criminal record. Parents or guardians of underage drivers facing OWI charges should carefully consider their legal options. A legal professional with criminal defense experience may be able to help them protect their child’s rights in court.