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Tennessee DUI Law

Of the 1,280 fatalities on Tennessee highways in 2004, about a third (420) involved at least one driver with a Blood Alcohol Concentration of .08 or greater.  238 of those deaths involved at least one driver with a Blood Alcohol Concentration of .16 or higher.

Legal Limits: 

It is illegal to drive in Tennessee with:

  • Any intoxicant, marijuana, narcotic, or other drug that has effects on the central nervous system
  • With a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or greater.

Penalties

If you have no prior offenses in the last ten years, you are considered a first time offender.  However, if you have a prior offense within ten years, then the court will consider all offenses you might have had in the last twenty years.

For Example:  An offender with a conviction 11 years ago is considered a first time offender, but an offender with convictions 7 and 11 years ago will be sentenced as a third time offender.

First Offense

  • Fine of $350 - $1,500
  • 48 hours in jail.  If your BAC was greater than .20, this is increased to 7 days.
  • One year suspended license

Second Offense

  • Fine of $600 - $3,500
  • Between 45 days and 11 months, 29 days in jail
  • Two years suspended license
  • Judge may, at his discretion, order an alcohol treatment program.  This is a 28 day inpatient program.

Third Offense

  • Fine of $1,100 - $10,000
  • Between 120 days and 11 months, 29 days in jail
  • Between 3 and 10 years license suspension

Fourth and Subsequent Offenses

  • Fine of $3,000 - $15,000
  • Between 150 days and two years (if classified as a Class E Felony) in jail
  • Five years license suspension

Additional Penalties

Minor (18 years old and younger) in the Car, First Time Offender

  • Minor is not injured: Minimum 30 days in jail and minimum $1,000 fine
  • Minor is seriously injured: Punished as a Class D Felony, between two and four years in jail
  • Minor is killed: Punished as a Class C Felony, between 3 and 6 years in jail.

Community service

  • First time offenders are also sentenced to 24 hours of community service, to be served in 3 8-hour shifts picking up litter on the side of a highway.
  • During this community service, they will wear a jacket with the words “I AM A DRUNK DRIVER” stenciled on the back.

Probation

The judge has discretion to order probation or not.  Probation may be set as high as the difference between the maximum possible sentence and the actual sentence.  The judge has the ability to set any standards for probation that are reasonably related to the offense, but always has to impose: (1) participation in a DUI program, (2) participation in a rehab program (only available on second and subsequent offenses), (3) restitution for anyone injured as a result of the drunk driving, and (4) drug and alcohol assessment and treatment (if the convicted person has a prior offense in the last 5 years).

Ignition Interlock Devices

The court may, at its discretion, order the application of an ignition interlock system to the motor vehicle of any offender.  This system will stay on for up to one year after the end of the license suspension period of the driver.  The system may be calibrated so that it will not allow the car to start if the driver’s Blood Alcohol Concentration is .025 or greater.

DUI Under 21

The legal limit for those under the age of 21 is a blood alcohol concentration of .02.

If the offender is between the ages of 18 and 21, this is punishable as a Class A misdemeanor.  This means a fine of $250 and a license suspension for one year.  The court may also sentence the offender to community service.

If the offender is between the ages of 16 and 18, this is punishable with the same penalties.  However, because state law prohibits adult charges being given to those under 18, this is not classified as a Class A Misdemeanor.

Requesting a Restricted License

If the court has suspended or revoked your license, you may request a restricted one instead.  The restricted license allows you to drive to and from:

  • Work
  • Alcohol treatment programs
  • School
  • Ignition interlock monitoring appointments
  • Outpatient alcohol treatment

Restricted licenses are unavailable to anyone who has a prior DUI conviction in the last 10 years.

Implied Consent to Chemical Tests

Tennessee law says that anyone driving on a highway has given his implied consent to be tested for blood alcohol concentration.  Of course, you retain the right to refuse this testing, but the penalties for refusal is additional license revocation of:

  • One year for first time offenders
  • Two years for those with prior DUI convictions
  • Two years, regardless of number of offenses, if the court finds the intoxication was the cause of serious bodily injury to another
  • Five years, regardless of number of offenses, if the court finds the intoxication was the cause of the death of another.