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Michigan Criminal Law Blog

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What Parents – and Kids – Need to Know about Underage Drinking and Driving Laws in Michigan

Driving while under the influence of alcohol is risky, especially when your blood alcohol level is high enough to warrant a crime. Something that’s perfectly legal – having a few drinks with friends – can result in jail time and steep penalties if you choose to get behind the wheel of a car after a night out.

But what if consuming alcohol isn’t even legal for you, yet, based on your age? Drinking and driving before it’s legal for you to drink means you’re committing two crimes, and the penalties in Michigan are steep if you get caught.

Underage drinking is a problem whether a teen drives or not. But when an inexperienced driver gets behind the wheel after consuming alcohol illegally, it’s a prescription for disaster. Even if a teen is lucky enough to escape the experience unharmed and without hurting anyone else, they still face harsh penalties from the court system.

Drinking and Driving among Teens is Still Common

Despite the warnings and many teens witnessing the damage caused by operating while intoxicated, there are still plenty who take the risk.

Some studies have shown that more than 30 percent of high school students consume alcohol in any given month and typically, these numbers rise around celebration times, such as prom or graduation. About a third of teens who consume alcohol illegally drive after doing so, and potentially as much as 20 percent of high schoolers have been a passenger in a vehicle with someone who has been drinking alcohol.

Millions of teenagers across the country consume alcohol illegally and then drive – and there are consequences. About a third of all drunk driving accidents are caused by underage drinkers.

For the most recent stats on OWI, check out Michigan’s 2016 Drunk Driving Audit here.

What Should You Do If You or Your Child is Arrested for OWI?

If your child is arrested for underage drinking and driving, you need to contact an attorney immediately. He or she could face a number of charges, including operating while intoxicated, operating while visibly impaired, being a minor in possession or alcohol, and underage drinking and driving. That’s four potential charges, even without any traffic citations or accidents.

For most, a first time OWI offense will be treated less harshly than additional offenses, but this isn’t always the case with underage OWI. Not to mention, the threshold for what constitutes OWI in Michigan is much lower when a driver is under 21.

Normal OWI requires a BAC of .08 or more, whereas an underage driver need only have a BAC of .02. Furthermore, any mistakes made while underage can be used against a person once he or she is over 21. A Zero Tolerance or minor BAC conviction can lead to an enhanced adult OWI, which means the person faces felony charges as an adult based on what happened in his or her teens.

What are the Penalties for Underage Drinking and Driving?

If your child violates Michigan’s Zero Tolerance law and is convicted of underage OWI, he or she could face a fine of up to $250 and be required to participate in up to 360 hours of community service. A second offense can result in more than 90 days in jail, 60 days of community service, and a $500 fine.

These charges are enhanced if an intoxicated underage driver has young passengers in his or her vehicle. A first time Zero Tolerance OWI can result in child endangerment charges if anyone in the vehicle is under the age of 16 and the driver could face jail time.

The sooner you get qualified legal representation after your child is arrested for OWI the better. Despite the harsh penalties, it is possible to defend against Michigan’s Zero Tolerance law. Every case is different and an experienced OWI attorney can help you protect your child and ensure a mistake doesn’t result in a lifetime of misery.

For more information or to schedule a consultation to discuss an underage OWI or Zero Tolerance charge, contact Andrew W. Kowalkowski, PLLC at 248.974.9594.

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