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Underage drunk driving can bring serious legal difficulties

The problem of drunk driving isn't limited to adults who can legally drink. Underage drinking, which occurs when a person under 21 consumes alcohol and then drives, is against the law in all states.

In Massachusetts, the law sets the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for people under 21 at .02 percent. This is such a small amount that drivers below this age can't drink at all without facing the possibility of being arrested for drunk driving.

A clear danger

Drivers who are under the legal drinking age are more likely to cause a crash, including a fatal crash. About 35 percent of fatal motor vehicle accident deaths involving 15 to 20 year olds included alcohol as a factor.

With this in mind, the National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995 requires that any states that want to receive Federal Aid Highway Funds must have a BAC limit of no higher than .02 percent for underage drivers. Even if the young person isn't showing signs of impairment, the mere fact that their BAC is at or above .02 percent is enough to result in a criminal charge.

The so-called "zero tolerance" drunk driving laws have had the intended impact of reducing the number of fatalities. If you compare the first 12 states to put these laws into place with the same number of states that didn't have them in place at the time, you will notice a 20 percent decrease in the number of nighttime crashes involving one vehicle with a driver under 21 years old.

Being charged with underage OUI or DUI

If you are stopped on suspicion of drunk driving and you are under 21, you still have rights that must be respected. You do have the right to remain silent. You also have the right to refuse to take a chemical test thanks to the informed consent laws in this state. If you opt not to take a chemical test, you will face consequences for that decision.

You should remember that you also have rights during the court process. One of these is that you can present a defense against the charges. Make sure you know your defense options so you can choose wisely.

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