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Ask a Trooper: Zero tolerance law

August 8, 2014
By Trooper Vince Kurtz - Iowa State Patrol Safety Education , Estherville News

Q: What does the Zero Tolerance law actually mean when it pertains to under age 21 drinking and driving? If the law is .02 (for Zero Tolerance) does that mean a teen (under 21) can have some alcohol in their system and not receive a Zero Tolerance as long as they are under .02?

A: Underage drinking has been a serious issue for many generations. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, and alcohol plays a role in approximately one-third of these crashes. The 'Zero Tolerance Law' was developed to address this problem.

Drivers under 21 years of age that test over .02 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) are subject to administrative penalties affecting their driving privileges. The first offense results in a 60 day suspension. Second and subsequent offenses will equal a 90 day suspension. The violator is also required to obtain high risk insurance in both cases.

The question today asks, is it really zero tolerance if you can have up to .02 BAC in your system? It is correct that the penalties described above only go into effect with a breath test over .02 BAC. And there is no 'one size fits all' way to tell how much alcohol will get a person to that level. For some it may be one beer, and for others it may be a lot less. Each person metabolizes alcohol differently.

This would be a good time to talk about other laws that could apply in this situation as well. It is illegal for anyone, regardless of age to have an open container of alcohol in their vehicle. Possession of alcohol under age 21 would be another law that applies. Not only is it against the law for a teen to be holding a container of alcohol, it is also illegal for them to have it in their system. Many courts have held that the mere presence of alcohol in a teen's system is sufficient to meet the criteria of possession. An officer that administers a preliminary breath test would be able to tell if the teen has been drinking, and issue a citation for possession even if they are under the .02 level.

Even though the '.02 Zero Tolerance Law' may not cover all situations where alcohol is involved, there are other laws that fill in the gaps. So what is the bottom line for people under the age of 21? Any possession or consumption of alcohol can result in a ticket, regardless of how high your BAC is.



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