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Tennessee DUI Laws

It's well known that driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol is dangerous. You may end up arrested or even cause personal injury to another. It's difficult to guess your blood alcohol level. If you are drinking, it's best not to drive.

Despite this knowledge, DUIs are still one of the most frequent arrests made in Tennessee. Whether it's due to a poor choice, thinking you're not intoxicated, or a more serious issue, DUIs are a severe public health problem.

Tennessee is trying to reduce its drugged and drunk driver statistics by enacting more comprehensive laws. While even a first-time conviction will earn you time in jail, a judge can have you complete a substance abuse assessment, which can help you get treatment if needed.

Here is more information about Tennessee DUI Laws:

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits and Implied Consent

"Per Se" BAC Limit 0.08%
Zero Tolerance (Underage) BAC Limit 0.02%
Enhanced Penalty (Aggravated) BAC Limit 0.2%
Implied Consent to Submit to BAC Test? Yes

Select Penalties

Minimum License Suspension or Revocation (1st, 2nd, 3rd offense) 1 year, 2 years, 6 years
Mandatory Alcohol Education, or Assessment and Treatment Both
Vehicle Confiscation or Forfeiture Possible? Yes, second offense
Ignition Interlock Device Possible? Yes

Disclaimer: State laws can change through legislative, judicial, or other means. While FindLaw works hard to ensure the accuracy of its legal resources, it's a good idea to research the law or check with an attorney to ensure you have the most recent information.

Tennessee DUI Law

The state of Tennessee prohibits anyone from driving or being in physical control of any motor vehicle or automobile while:

  • Under the influence of any drug, controlled substance, cannabis, or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
  • Using a substance that affects your central nervous system, or any substance that impairs your ability to drive with the "clearness of mind and control of one's self" that you would otherwise have, or
  • Having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more, or 0.04% if operating a commercial vehicle

Physical Control of a Motor Vehicle

This element of Tennessee's DUI law means you don't have to be in motion to face arrest. You may be in physical control of a vehicle if you can drive, should you choose. Examples include having the keys in the ignition of a parked car or being asleep in the vehicle with the keys in your pocket.

Per Se DUI

per se DUI is an offense that law enforcement can establish by a valid chemical test showing your BAC is at or more than the state's legal limit. Tennessee recognizes a limit of 0.08% BAC. At this level, you are legally intoxicated. Law enforcement does not need to prove actual impairment. You may not feel drunk or have been driving dangerously. An evidentiary breath test or a blood test showing your blood alcohol content is 0.08% or greater is enough evidence to prosecute you on a DUI charge.

You may still face arrest if your BAC is lower than 0.08%, if the police officer believes you are under the influence of intoxicating substances, or if you show other signs of impairment that make driving unsafe.

Implied Consent Law

When a law enforcement officer believes you are driving under the influence, they will ask you to take a preliminary breath test or Breathalyzer. They may also ask you to perform a series of field sobriety tests. These tests give law enforcement probable cause to make an arrest.

After your arrest, Tennessee's implied consent law kicks in. Driving is a privilege. Part of this privilege is our agreement to follow the law. One such law is our implied consent to comply with chemical tests when law enforcement suspects you are driving under the influence. Chemical tests include an evidentiary breath test after your arrest or blood testing. These tests verify your BAC and look for other intoxicating substances.

You may refuse these tests, but there are consequences. Your driver's license suspension is for one year for a first refusal. A second refusal will suspend your license for two years. The court may also order you to install an ignition interlock device for one year. This suspension is in addition to any driver's license suspension you may receive if you are later convicted of a DUI.

If you cause an accident that results in serious bodily injury and refuse chemical tests, you lose your license for two years.

Law enforcement may obtain a warrant to force your cooperation with the tests.

Aggravating Factors

Certain factors can elevate the seriousness of your DUI charge. Your jail time, fines, and license suspension may be more significant if convicted. Aggravating factors may include:

  • Prior DUI offenses
  • Transporting a minor age 18 or younger
  • BAC of 0.2% or more
  • Causing serious injury
  • Causing a fatality
  • Causing serious injury or death to a minor

Law enforcement charges a DUI involving serious injuries or death to an adult or a child as vehicular assault, vehicular homicide, or child endangerment. These are all felony charges with significant jail time and permanent driver's license revocation.

DUI Penalties

If convicted, your sentence will include many elements. All convictions carry a mandatory minimum jail time. You will face a license revocation for at least one year or more if you refuse implied consent chemical tests.

The judge may suspend some of your jail sentence and place you on probation. You will have multiple tasks to complete on probation. For a first offense, these requirements can include:

  • DUI or drug offender school
  • Community service hours
  • Attend a victim impact panel
  • Complete a drug and alcohol assessment
  • Participate in an alcohol or drug treatment program
  • Pay restitution for any injury or property damage caused

In Tennessee, a prior offense occurred in any state within the last 10 years.

A DUI offender over 21 with a BAC under 0.20% faces the following sentencing:




Jail Time

License Suspension

First Offense


$350 to $1,500

48 hours to 11 months and 29 days

One year

Second Offense


$600 to $3,500

45 days to 11 months and 29 days

Two years

Third Offense


$1,100 to $10,000

120 days to 11 months and 29 days

Six Years

Subsequent offenses are felonies.

Restricted License and Ignition Interlock Devices

You may ask the judge for a restricted license during your suspension period. A restricted license allows you to drive for limited reasons, such as work, school, medical appointments, or treatment.

Generally, you must install and maintain an ignition interlock device (IID) as part of having a restricted license. An IID is a breath-testing device that connects to your vehicle's ignition. You must blow into the IID when you want to drive. If the IID detects alcohol in your sample, your vehicle will not start.

IIDs come equipped with a camera to ensure you are taking the test. The IID will randomly prompt you for additional samples during your drive.

Zero Tolerance for Underage DWI

Tennessee's driving while impaired law (DWI) applies a zero-tolerance policy for underage intoxicated driving. If you are under 21 and drive or are in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of any drug or intoxicating substance, or your BAC is 0.02%, you face arrest.

If convicted, your sentence can include:

  • One-year license suspension
  • No eligibility for a restricted license
  • $250 fine
  • Community service hours

Tennessee DUI Resources

  • DUI Statutes: Driving Under the Influence (Tennessee Code Ann. §§ 55-10-401 et seq)
  • DUI OffensesState website detailing penalties and costs of various DUI convictions. (Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security)
  • DUI Schools in Tennessee: Information and locations for the state's Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Program required after a DUI conviction (Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services)
  • Restricted License Information: Details on eligibility for restricted driving privileges after a DUI offense (Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security)
  • Finding a Manufacturer & Service Center: Locate an ignition interlock service center or installer (Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security)
  • Defenses to Drunk Driving: Common defenses to DUI charges (FindLaw)

Get Help Today From a Tennessee DUI Attorney

A DUI conviction can have lasting consequences in your life. Long-term effects can prevent you from getting jobs, housing, specialty licenses, and security clearances. A DUI lawyer can evaluate your drugged or drunk driving case and provide legal advice moving forward. Contact a Tennessee DUI defense attorney to protect your rights.

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