Nationwide, drinking alcohol is illegal for those under 21. It may seem like a no-brainer that driving under the influence of alcohol is also illegal for younger drivers. However, many states have different policies that determine what it means to be “under the influence.” Wisconsin was one of the first states to adopt a zero tolerance policy for underage drivers driving under the influence (DUI) or operating while intoxicated (OWI). 
  
The policy recognizes that drinking and driving is more dangerous for younger drivers. After implementing the policy, Wisconsin saw a 34% decrease in the number of crashes and fatalities involving drivers age 15 to 20. 
 
What is zero tolerance? 
  
Zero tolerance means that authorities can charge a driver under the age of 21 with a DUI or OWI for any amount of alcohol present in his or her system. In terms of blood alcohol content (BAC), Wisconsin laws require “absolute sobriety” from underage drivers. While drivers over 21 are typically charged with a DUI only for driving with a BAC over 0.08%, any BAC higher than 0.00% may result in DUI charge for an underage driver. Furthermore, the BAC level can be the deciding factor in a DUI charge for a minor. The driver may feel and behave as if he or she were sober. Yet a breath test that shows a BAC above 0.00% can result in a DUI charge. 
  
How does zero tolerance affect young drivers? 
 
The most recent data shows 239 arrests in Wisconsin for minors driving under the influence. The immediate consequences usually include hefty fines and a loss of driving privileges or a temporary driving ban. A DUI charge for an underage driver can also have far-reaching consequences. The young driver may have to list that charge on college applications or future job applications. A DUI can also increase car insurance premiums for the young driver. Young drivers in this unfortunate situation should seek professional advice so that one mistake does not define their driving ability for years to come.