Zero-tolerance laws carry severe and sometimes draconian consequences for those finding themselves on the wrong side of the law. Regulations particularly affect drivers arrested for DUI who are under the age of 21.
Simply put, no tolerance requires mandatory enforcement of violations, no matter how severe. Intent or extenuating circumstances are ignored as well. Penalties are objective and not subjective without any “wiggle room” afforded in other laws.
The most common zero-tolerance laws involved drinking and driving and were created for underage drinkers. Any driver with any level of alcohol can be subject to criminal charges and prosecution.
A quantum shift in DUI law
Drunk driving laws in the United States changed when the U.S. Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, mandating that states increase the legal drinking age to 21. By 1988, all 50 states were on board.
By the 1990s, zero-tolerance policies were growing in popularity with a strict focus on underage drinkers and drug users. By the middle of the decade, The National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995 ordered states to consider enacting laws involving BAC levels of 0.02 percent or lower for underage drivers to qualify for Federal-Aid Highway Funds.
As a “per se offense,” law enforcement is not required to prove a driver is intoxicated, provided that the driver’s BAC is above the legal limit.
Troubling statistics reveal that accidents involving drivers younger than 21 are more likely to result in death if they consume alcohol before getting behind the wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found alcohol involvement as part of fatal accidents doubles the statistic for drivers older than 21. Underage consumption at low levels accelerates the risk.
Enforcement of zero tolerance has not been without controversy. Claims of Black children disproportionally impacted and allegations of unjust punitive measures by not considering extenuating circumstances.