Drinking and driving, also known as "driving under the influence" (DUI), is illegal in Tennessee. The DUI laws in Tennessee have many components including blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits for adults and minors, criminal sentences with jail time and fines, driver's license revocations, and implied consent to alcohol testing for all drivers.
Tennessee has a blood alcohol level at which the state presumes the driver is drunk. This is called a "per se" BAC and is set at .08 in Tennessee. In addition, having an extremely high BAC, in Tennessee of .20 or above, can result in enhanced penalties.
For children and adults under the drinking age of 21 years old in Tennessee, the state has a "zero tolerance" policy. If a person under 21 has a BAC of .02 while driving, even if not drunk, the person can be found to have committed a DUI. If a youth (16-20) is found guilty of impaired driving, their license will be revoked for one year, they'll receive a $250 fine, and the court can impose community service.
Penalties and Sentences
Tennessee has mandatory jail time for first time DUI offenders. At a minimum, offenders will get 48 hours in jail, unless your BAC was .20 or higher, then the minimum is 7 days. However, a first time DUI can give you up to 11 months and 29 days in jail and a $350-$1,500 fine. Your license can be revoked for one year. You'll have to attend an alcohol and drug treatment program.
A second DUI has a minimum of 45 days in jail (but same almost one year maximum), a mandatory fine of $600-$3,500, license revocation for two years, and once you do get your license back, it's restricted to going to work, school, court-ordered alcohol programs or interlock device monitoring. Your vehicle can be confiscated starting at your second DUI.
A third DUI offense carries a minimum of 120 days in jail (maximum under one year), $1,100-$10,000 in mandatory fines, and license revocation for 6-10 years with no possibility of getting a restricted license even for necessities like work. Fourth and subsequent DUIs are felonies that will get you a minimum of 365 days in jail and a $3,000-$15,000 mandatory fine, and 8-year license revocation with no restricted license available.
Also, the judge can order restitution to any person you harmed, for any DUI. Additionally, getting a driver's license after a DUI involves many fees, including a $100 reinstatement fee, $50 for a SR-22 insurance form, plus the usual licensing and vehicle registration fees.
Enhanced punishments are possible depending on the circumstances. First, "vehicular assault" or causing serious injury to another person due to your impaired driving is a Class D felony subject to 2-12 years in prison, a fine up to $5,000, and 1-5 years of license revocation (depending on prior DUIs). There's also "vehicular homicide" or killing another person due to your drinking and driving is a Class B felony punishable by 8-30 years in prison and fine up to $25,000, plus license revocation for 3-10 years and no restricted driver’s license. Lastly, "aggravated vehicular homicide" or killing another while drunk driving with at least two prior DUIs, vehicular assaults, or a prior vehicular homicide or one prior DUI and a BAC of .20 is a Class A felony subject to 15-60 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.
Getting a DUI with a child under 18 in the car also results in enhanced penalties. Even for a first time DUI where the child wasn't injured, the minimum jail time is 30 days and minimum fine is $1,000. However, it's a Class D felony if the child is injured seriously and a Class B felony if the child dies. Sentence length will depend on criminal history and other factors like injuries.
Ignition Interlock Device
A judge can order an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) for even a first-time DUI. Installed at the driver's expense, IIDs require a sober person to breath into them to start the car. With two DUI convictions in a five-year period, the IID is required for six months after getting your license back.
If you refuse to submit to a blood alcohol test when requested by a police officer, you can have your driver's license revoked for one year for the first offense, two years for the second offense, and two years if the crash resulted in bodily injury, even if it's your first offense. If the crash killed someone and you refused a blood alcohol test, you may have your license revoked for five years. Also, a police officer can testify as to other factors that indicate your intoxication, even if you refuse the test, such as the smell of your breath, visible alcohol containers, your pupils, your speech, etc.
Generally speaking, refusing a blood alcohol test won't help you avoid the consequences of your drinking and driving. Only not drinking and driving can protect you from these penalties.
Have More Questions About Tennessee DUI Laws? Talk to an Attorney
If you’re facing a DUI charge in Tennessee, it's in your best interest to reach out to an experienced DUI attorney near you to discuss your case and learn about your options. It's quite possible that competent legal representation may be able to get you back in the driver's seat faster.