Zero Tolerance in DUI Laws in Arizona


Many states in the United States have a zero-tolerance DUI law in place for underage drinkers. These zero-tolerance laws make it a criminal DUI offense for drivers under the age of 21 to drive with even a small amount of alcohol in their system.i While some states will allow for a small amount of alcohol in the underage driver’s system, Arizona is very strict and does not allow any trace of alcohol. There is zero tolerance for DUI laws in Arizona.

DUIs Generally in Arizona

Generally, DUI stands for “driving while under the influence”.ii Typically this means under the influence of alcohol, but this charge can also include drugs, which includes both legal over-the-counter prescriptions and illegal drugs.iii There are many classifications of DUIs in Arizona. To begin with, a standard DUI will result in a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more for standard vehicles.iv The BAC level must not exceed 0.04% if driving a commercial vehicle.v And for underage drinkers, the BAC level must be 0.00% or that minor can be found with an underage An extreme DUI has a BAC level of 0.15% or higher.vii

There is also a classification of DUI called aggravated DUI. An aggravated DUI in Arizona can arise from three separate types of situations. The first way a DUI can become aggravated is if the DUI has been committed while the driver’s license has been revoked or suspended.viii The next way is if the DUI was the third DUI of the driver within five years.ix Finally, the last way is if the DUI was committed while a person under the age of fifteen years was in the vehicle with the driver.x An aggravated DUI is the type of DUI that will get immigrants into the most amount of trouble with federal immigration laws. Not only will an immigrant face possible deportation if they receive an aggravated DUI, but they can face a range of fees and jail time, which would be determined by the judge.xi

The National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995

The National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995 had a large impact on underage drinking laws in the United States. The National Highway Systems Designation Act mandated that the states consider a 0.02% blood alcohol content for under-21-year-old drivers to be under the influence in order for that state to qualify for Federal-Aid Highway Funds.xii The 0.02% blood alcohol content limit is considered a per se offense, just as the 0.08% is considered a per se offense for those over the age of 21 drivers. A per se offense means the police do not need to prove the driver is intoxicated, so long as the driver is above the legal limit set.xiii If the state did not comply with this finding, the state would not receive any federal funding for its highways. The majority of states complied with this mandate, and many states, like Arizona, took it further to have zero-tolerance laws in place.

Zero Tolerance in DUI Laws in Arizona

Arizona was one of the states that took The National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995 to the next level and do not allow any percentage of alcohol in an underage driver’s body while driving. Any person under the age of 21 is considered underage for drinking, even if that person’s birthday is in six hours. The law is very strict when it comes to driving while under the influence and Arizona is no stranger to that. While many states allow up to 0.02% of alcohol in the system of a driver under the age of 21 – Arizona permits only 0.00% alcohol content.xivxv Despite the fact that drinking underage is illegal, drivers under the age of 21 accounts for 17% of fatal alcohol-related crashes each year.xvi Approximately 2,000 underage drinkers die each year behind the wheel and alcohol is a factor in one-third of ALL teenage auto fatalities overall.xvii

Why Have Zero Tolerance in DUI Laws in Arizona?

Why does Arizona, and many other states, have a zero-tolerance law? Many people in the United States began drinking before the legal age of 21, and many of those individuals probably drove at some point as well. If it is such a customary thing, why bother making it illegal? Well, despite the common occurrences of underage drinking and driving, it is still illegal to do so, and maybe in an attempt to enforce the law for these “common activities,” zero-tolerance laws were put into place.

Nearly one-third of all deaths of 15 to 20-year-olds are the result of a motor vehicle crash.xviii Of those motor vehicle crashes, 35% of those fatalities are alcohol-related.xix The alcohol involvement rate for young drivers is roughly twice that of those over the age of 21-year-old drivers.xx

What Effect Does the Zero Tolerance Policy Have?

The zero-tolerance policy is a strict policy to have, and to some, it seems harsh. Many people probably question whether the zero-tolerance policy actually has an effect on underage drinkers. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), when comparing – 12 states that implemented a zero tolerance law against 12 states that did not implement a zero tolerance law, the states with the zero tolerance laws had a 20% decline in fatal single-car nighttime crashes with drivers under the age of 21.xxi The NHTSA found that the biggest decline in fatal crashes occurred in states with underage blood alcohol content limits of 0.02% or less, while less impact was seen in states with a higher blood alcohol content level for underage drinkers.xxii

Conclusion to Zero Tolerance in DUI Laws in Arizona

While The National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995 only requires that states have a 0.02% blood alcohol content limit for underage drivers, many states took that mandate further and have a zero-tolerance law in place. Arizona is one of those states, and the consequences of drinking and driving while underage can be expensive and severe. The states that have this zero-tolerance law in place saw a decline in alcohol-related deaths in their vehicle accidents. Even though the difference between 0.00% and 0.02% is very minor, it is enough to be the difference between life and death; and zero tolerance in DUI laws in Arizona is taken very seriously. Consult experienced Arizona DUI lawyers immediately when facing DUI charges.

i See Underage DUI: Zero Tolerance Laws Findlaw (Accessed July 3, 2017)

ii See Will a DUI Affect Your Permanent Resident Status? All Law. (Accessed April 8, 2016).

iii Id.

iv See DUI & DWI in Arizona. Department of Motor Vehicles. (Accessed April 5, 2016).

v Id.

vi Id.

vii Id.

viii See Arizona DUI Fines and Sentencing. Free Advice Legal. (Accessed April 4, 2016).

ix Id.

x Id.

xi Id.

xii See Underage DUI: Zero Tolerance Laws Findlaw (Accessed July 3, 2017)

xiii Id.

xiv See Teen Drunk Driving: The Sobering Facts of Underage DUIs. Driving Laws by NOLO. (March 22, 2016).

xv See Arizona Drunk Driving Fines and Penalties. Driving Laws by NOLO (Accessed July 3, 2017).

xvi Id.

xvii Id.

xviii See Underage DUI: Zero Tolerance Laws Findlaw (Accessed July 3, 2017)

xix Id.

xx Id.

xxi Id.

xxii Id.

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