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The rules for DUI are different for those under 21

Perhaps your son or daughter went to a friend's house to hang out. What you didn't know is that he or she had a beer or two while there. When your child left that location to come home, a police officer initiated a traffic stop. While talking to your underage driver, the officer suspected that your child had been drinking.

By the time you heard about the incident, the officer already took your child into custody on suspicion of drunk driving. You've probably heard that the blood alcohol concentration level for Washington state is .08, but for those under the age of 21, that doesn't apply.

The rules change for those under 21

More than likely, you discussed underage drinking with your child and never anticipated that you would receive a call saying that police arrested him or her for underage DUI. You expected your child to understand that he or she shouldn't be drinking alcohol, but you just found out he or she broke that rule.

Like most states, Washington has a "zero tolerance" law when it comes to underage drivers accused of DUI. Instead of the legal limit of .08 reserved for adults, no one under the age of 21 can have a BAC over .02. The one or two beers your child consumed while at a friend's house could easily put him or her over that limit.

The reason for a low BAC for those under 21

There are valid reasons why the BAC is so low for underage drivers. Did you know that around 33 percent of all of the deaths for people between the ages of 15 and 20 happen in motor vehicle accidents? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that of that percentage, 35 percent involve alcohol. The number of alcohol-related fatalities is only approximately half of that for those over the age of 21.

When states began implementing zero tolerance laws for underage drivers, research showed that the number of fatal accidents involving alcohol dropped by around 20 percent. In addition, a DUI conviction before reaching the age of 21 could interfere with college and work opportunities. These laws are designed to protect lives, but they could also spare your child from losing the ability to take advantage of every opportunity available in the future.

Now that your child could face charges of underage DUI, he or she does not have to simply accept this fate. It may be possible to keep a drunk driving conviction off his or her record. Be proactive and find out what your child's rights and legal options are under these circumstances.

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Tim Kelly

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