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Why are Rhode Island’s DUI laws stricter on underage drivers?

On Behalf of | Mar 11, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Driving while intoxicated by alcohol is a criminal offense wherever you go in the United States. It’s also against the rules for someone aged under 21 to drink alcohol.

So, what happens if an underage driver is caught drunk behind the wheel of a motor vehicle?

In Rhode Island, the rules for driving under the influence (DUI) are much stricter on underage drivers because these young drivers break two laws instead of just one.  But how do the DUI laws for underage drivers differ from the rules for adult drivers?

Driving while impaired

Rhode Island, like other U.S. states, has a “zero tolerance policy” when it comes to underage drinking. Under state law, a law officer can cite a driver aged 18 to 20 for driving while impaired (DWI) if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is at least .02%. This low BAC limit means that even a single drink of alcohol could lead to penalties.

By comparison, an adult driver faces DUI charges if their BAC is at least .08%.

DWI isn’t a criminal offense. However, if an underage driver hits the BAC limit of .08% for adults, they’ll face DUI criminal charges instead.

The consequences of an underage DUI and DWI

If a court convicts an underage driver of DWI, the driver must pay as much as $250 in fines and serve up to 30 hours of community restitution. The court will also suspend their license for up to three months. If the driver commits a subsequent offense, they’ll have to serve double the number of community service work hours and pay an additional $300 highway safety assessment fee, on top of fines.

On the other hand, if a court convicts an underage driver of DUI, they’ll face the same penalties as convicted adult drivers. A first offense is a misdemeanor, which carries up to $300 in fines, 60 hours of public community restitution, or imprisonment for one year. If the underage driver commits a second or subsequent offense, a court may order the mandatory suspension of their license until the driver reaches 21.

Underage drivers should keep in mind that Rhode Island’s laws are stricter on them. Any amount of alcohol in their system can lead to penalties – and hitting the legal limit for adults will lead to actual criminal charges. A conviction can also impact a young driver’s future education and employment opportunities. If you’re the parent or guardian of an underage driver faces charges, you should take this matter seriously. A legal professional may be able to advise you and your child on the DUI process and help you realize your defense options.