Impaired or drunk driving is illegal at any age and in every state. In Oregon, driving under the influence is known as driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII). Despite the difference in name, it means the same thing as DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated) – operating a vehicle impaired by alcohol, drugs, or both at the same time.
Oregon is one of many states that has what are known as zero tolerance policies in place when it comes to underage drinking and driving. The penalties for driving while impaired can be severe, depending on the circumstances of the incident and the number of previous charges. Underage drinking is not permitted in Oregon, either on or off the road, so underage drivers have a smaller margin of error when it comes to impairment behind the wheel.
Zero Tolerance Law in Oregon
Under Oregon law, adult drivers are presumed impaired by alcohol if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is at least 0.08 percent. For drivers under 21 years of age, 0.01 percent of alcohol in their system can lead to a DUII charge, a driver's license or permit suspension, and other penalties. This is known as zero tolerance, meaning there's really no acceptable alcohol limit for underage drinkers operating a motor vehicle. According to ORS 471.430, personal possession of alcoholic beverages by someone who is underage and operating a vehicle is a Class A misdemeanor.
If that driver is pulled over with any amount of alcohol in their system, they will likely be charged with a DUII. Even if a minor is allowed to drink alcohol at home with their parents' permission, they can still be charged with a DUII once they're on the road.
Consequences of Violating Zero Tolerance Law
How a DUII charge impacts a driver depends on their BAC level at the time they were stopped and whether it's their first offense or one of many. An underage driver with any alcohol in their system faces a 90-day driver's license suspension for a first-time offense, according to NOLO. This may increase to a year's suspension if the second DUII occurred within five years of a first DUII charge, the driver has already been convicted of DUII, has participated in a diversion program, or have had their driving privileges suspended due to a violation of Oregon's implied consent law.
According to Romano Law PC, the charges and penalties that underage drivers face also depend on the city or county where the arrest was made. Some locations will file DUII charges against a driver with lower BAC limits than others. Also, some places may charge a driver with no chemical test readings at all, particularly if the driver refuses them under the state's implied consent law.
Criminal Penalties for Underage Drivers
The courts often allow convicted minors to participate in Oregon's DUII diversion program, and the charge can be dismissed following its successful completion. Those who agree to the program must abide by its conditions, which typically include:
- Paying the fees applicable to the program.
- Following treatment recommendations advised by the program.
- Installing an ignition interlock device (IID) on any vehicle the minor will drive during the term of the program.
Underage offenders who fail a DUII diversion program or who don't complete it will likely face the same criminal charges as adults. As a Class A misdemeanor, an offender faces a minimum $1,000 fine; two days of jail time; 80 hours of community service; a driver's license suspension of up to a year; the use and installation of an IDD for a year after the driver's license suspension; alcohol or drug abuse assessment; the completion of a substance abuse treatment program as recommended by the court; and mandatory attendance at a Victim Impact Panel. If the driver has more than one DUII conviction, the criminal penalties against that driver will be more severe.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.