New York’s Zero Tolerance Policy

On December 2nd of this year, the Hudson Valley News Network reported on an underage drinking enforcement operation conducted by the New York State Police in Dutchess County. In this operation, an 18-year-old volunteer was sent to fifteen stores to purchase alcoholic beverages under the observation of plainclothes investigators and uniformed troopers. Two subjects were arrested and charged with the misdemeanor of Unlawful Dealing with a Minor. This is just one of the routine underage drinking enforcement operations that the New York State Police, together with the New York State Liquor Authority, conduct throughout the state in an attempt to cut down on underage alcohol abuse and DWI.

The standards are stricter and the penalties harsher for people under 21 who drink and drive. For those 21 and older, the legal limit for driving under the influence is a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08. For drivers under 21, the legal limit is a BAC of .02. New York State has had a Zero Tolerance policy in place since 1996 to deal with people under 21 who drink and drive. Learn more about what the Zero Tolerance law is, what the consequences of violating it are, and how it can affect you.

Zero Tolerance Law

Drivers under the age of 21 make up less than 10% of licensed drivers, yet one survey found that they accounted for 14% of DUI related fatalities in New York State. In addition to this, 2,000 non-fatal accidents are caused by underage drinkers every year in New York. The dangers of teens driving after having consumed alcohol are among the reasons the Zero Tolerance law was enacted in 1996.

People under age 21 who drive with a BAC of .02 to .07 are
subject to the Zero Tolerance law. If you are under 21 and have been pulled
over, the officer may find reason to believe that you have consumed alcohol. If
this is the case, they will temporarily detain you in order to administer a
Breathalyzer test, usually at the police station. If you refuse this test, your
license may be revoked for at least a year.

DMV Hearing

If the Breathalyzer finds that your BAC is between .02 and .07, you can be charged with driving after having consumed alcohol, which is a violation of the Zero Tolerance law. If this happens, you must appear for a hearing before an administrative law judge of the Department of Motor Vehicles. During this hearing, the police must prove that:
  • You were the person operating the vehicle
  • They made a valid request for you to submit to a chemical test (the Breathalyzer)
  • You were younger than 21 at the time
  • The chemical test was administered correctly
  • The chemical test showed that you had consumed alcohol and your BAC was at least .02
  • The police made a lawful stop of your vehicle
You are entitled to provide evidence and witnesses for your own defense during the hearing, and you may have an attorney present to represent you. If you choose not to attend the hearing, your license may be suspended temporarily.


Driving after consuming alcohol is a serious violation of
the law, but it is not officially designated as a crime. Although you won’t go
to jail for breaking this law, there are other consequences. Your license will
be suspended for at least six months and there will most likely be a civil
penalty of at least $125. In addition, you will have to pay a $100 fee to have
your license reinstated. These charges will remain on your record for three
years or until you turn 21, whichever is longer. If you have other
alcohol-related traffic offenses on your record, your license will be revoked
for one year or until you turn 21, whichever is longer.

If your BAC is found to be from .05 to .08, you may be charged with Driving While Ability is Impaired by Alcohol (DWAI). Any BAC above .08 is classified as Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). Both DWAI and DWI are tried in criminal court.

What to do next

If you or a loved one have been charged with DWI, Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria can help. Our experienced criminal attorneys are committed to aggressively representing clients in order to provide them the best defense possible. Call today to find out the penalties you may be facing and what your rights are going forward.
This article does not purport to give legal advice and is for informational purposes only.