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Penalties when an impaired minor drives in Tennessee

For most people, getting your driver's license is an exciting part of being a teenager. Yet teenagers routinely engage in behavior meant to challenge authority, and that can mean experimenting with alcohol or drugs. What happens when that experimentation occurs in combination with driving?

Under Tennessee law, anyone under 21 who drives under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substance can be charged with DUI. Specifically for alcohol, that means that you can be convicted of DUI with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02% or greater. Additionally, any detectible amount of an illegal drug can result in a DUI.

Impaired driving by an underage person is a Class A misdemeanor or, for those under 18, a delinquent act. It carries significant penalties:

  • Driver's license suspension for a year, with no chance for a restricted license
  • A fine of $250
  • Public service work at the discretion of the court

It is no defense that you were prescribed the drug legally

Tennessee law specifically states that it is not a defense to a DUI charge that you were using an intoxicating drug legally by prescription. Some prescription drugs can impair you, and you should not drive if they do.

According to the FDA, there are any number of legal drugs that could potentially impair your driving:

  • Opioid pain killers
  • Products containing codeine
  • Sleeping pills, some of which can impair you the next morning
  • Diet pills and stay-awake drugs with stimulants, including caffeine, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine
  • Prescription anxiety medications, including benzodiazepines
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Certain antidepressants
  • Antipsychotic medications
  • Cold remedies and allergy reducers, including over the counter versions
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Certain anti-diarrheal medicines
  • Motion sickness preventatives
  • Medicines containing CBD

It's important to understand your degree of impairment using legal drugs. That warning on the label that says you should avoid driving or operating heavy machinery needs to be taken seriously. While it may not be illegal to have these drugs in your system (as long as you have a prescription or the medication is over-the-counter), all it takes for you to be charged with DUI is for an officer to notice signs of impairment.

If you are taking medications that impair your driving, talk to your health care provider about changing the dose or switching to an alternative medication. Always tell your doctor about all the medicines you are taking, including prescription, herbal, alternative and over-the-counter medications.

If you have been charged with underage DUI, get a lawyer

For those under 21, a DUI conviction could be life-changing. Having a criminal record can affect your opportunities for jobs, education and housing. Don't let a youthful mistake ruin your life. Fight your DUI charge by hiring an experienced DUI defense attorney right away.

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