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Welcome to the Zero Tolerance section! This section of the site is intended to provide young people with the facts regarding Zero Tolerance Laws in the United States. This is important information for underage drivers, because just one wrong move could mean losing your driver's license for a long, long time. So, listen up!

You might even want to double check and make sure you get it all. When you get to the end of this section, take a look at the "What's Driving You?" Challenge, where you can check out what you know.

The legal drinking age in the United States is 21. So, no matter what part of the country you are in, you are not legally able to purchase or consume alcoholic beverages. The concept of zero tolerance laws for youth is based on a simple concept: since it is illegal for persons under 21 to drink alcohol, it should also be illegal for them to drive with any alcohol in their system.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have established lower blood alcohol thresholds that are illegal per se for drivers younger than 21. Federal legislation enacted in 1995 that allowed for the withholding of highway funds played a role in motivating states to pass such laws. In the spring of 1998 South Carolina became the 50th state to adopt a Zero Tolerance policy.

These new laws differ in both the maximum BAC they permit (.00, .01, or .02), and the way they are implemented. In most states with Zero Tolerance laws, however, you can lose your drivers license for getting caught driving with any amount of alcohol in your body. Even the maximum now allowed (.02) is very low; many teenagers will be above this after just one drink. And all underage drinking drivers, no matter where they live, can expect to pay heavy fines, lose their license for an average of 6 months (possibly much longer) and will suffer severely restricted privileges or a total loss of license until age 21.

In Illinois (where "What's Driving You?" is produced) it is referred to as the "Use it and Lose it" Zero Tolerance law. This means exactly what it says: if you use alcohol you can lose your driving privileges! For more information on Zero Tolerance in Illinois check out the article in the Reading Room.

What does Zero Tolerance Mean?

Well the name pretty much says it all. Zero Tolerance laws have no tolerance whatsoever for underage drivers who get behind the wheel of a car after consuming alcohol. It is illegal for people under 21 to drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in their bodies simply because it is illegal for them to drink in the first place.

Why is Zero Tolerance Necessary?

Research has shown that young impaired drivers are involved in fatal crashes at approximately twice the rate of adult drives, aged 21 and over.

Persons of ages 16-20 years have the highest risk of a being killed in a traffic crash of any age group (U.S. Department of Transportation, NHTSA, 1998). In fact, in 1998, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for this age group. Additionally, 18-year-olds constituted the single year age group with the highest number of fatalities (U.S. Department of Transportation, NHTSA, In Press). In addition, some 22% of the drivers in the 16-20 year old age group's fatal crashes had a BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) of .01 or higher.

Zero tolerance laws for youth are the one way to address this problem directly.

The final kicker: cops say it's pretty easy to nail inexperienced drivers - they they're already looking at you! Nice odds, huh? One drink, one driver, one phone call after another - to your mom, for a ride!

Yeah - Zero tolerance laws are very harsh. That's the whole idea!

It doesn't take much to raise your Blood Alcohol Content (B.A.C.) to even 0.02 - the most common minimum level for a Zero Tolerance violation. Most young people's B.A.C. goes above this point from just one drink.