Understanding teenage drinking laws

January 16 2018


Teenagers might not fully understand the consequences -- legal and otherwise -- of underage drinking. But it's important for adults and minors alike to know what can happen when anyone under 21 is caught in possession of alcohol or found to be drinking and driving.

Important Numbers
According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 4,300 deaths are caused by underage drinking each year, and the economic costs of underage alcohol consumption reached $24 billion in 2010. Reports by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also note that approximately 20 percent of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes test positive for alcohol use.

Laws and Definitions
Underage drinking laws vary from state to state, but there can be severe repercussions for both teens and parents no matter where you live. If you are an adult caught providing alcohol to minors, you could face criminal charges.

While the legal blood alcohol limit for adult drivers is typically 0.08 percent, most states have lower thresholds for underage drivers. Many states have even enacted zero tolerance laws for underage drinking and driving.

Legal Consequences
Teens convicted of driving under the influence could face fines, probation, community service, mandatory alcohol education and even jail time if their drunk driving results in a fatality. Even if the teen wasn't driving and is only charged with having or consuming alcohol, aka a minor in possession charge, they could still see their license suspended for up to a year.

Either way, the repercussions for underage drinking are legally significant and could affect a young person's life for years to come.