Tennessee Drunk Driving Laws

When is a Driver Considered to be Legally Drunk in Tennessee?

  • Non-commercial drivers age 21+ are considered legally drunk when their blood alcohol level is .08 or more.
  • Drivers of commercial vehicles are legally drunk when their blood alcohol concentration is .04 percent or greater. In Tennessee, school bus drivers are commercial drivers.
  • Drivers under 21 are legally drunk when their blood alcohol level is
    .02 or more.

Penalties for Drunk Driving in Tennessee

  • A first-time offender faces confinement in a county jail or workhouse for a minimum confinement of 24 hours and a maximum confinement of 11 months and 29 days. As a condition of probation, the offender will be required to remove litter from state highways in three shifts of eight hours. The offender will also be fined between $350 and $1,500. The driver's license revocation period is one year. If a first-time offender had a BAC of .20 or more, a minimum confinement period of seven days is required. Each offender ordered to remove litter shall be required to wear a blaze orange or other distinctively colored vest with the words "I AM A DRUNK DRIVER" stenciled or otherwise written on the back of the vest, in letters no less than four inches in height.
  • For a second conviction within 10 years, the offender faces a minimum confinement in a workhouse of 45 days and a maximum confinement of 11 months and 29 days. The offender will also be fined between $600 and $3,500. The driver’s license revocation period is two years. A judge may also sentence the offender to participate in an alcohol treatment program for up to 28 days.
  • For a third conviction within 10 years, the offender faces a minimum confinement in a county jail or workhouse of 120 days and a maximum confinement of 11 months and 29 days. The offender will also be fined between $1,100 and $10,000. The driver’s license revocation period is six years.
  • For a fourth or subsequent conviction within 10 years, the offender faces a minimum confinement of 150 days and a maximum confinement of six years. The fine is between $3,000 and $15,000. The driver’s license revocation period is eight years.

Enhanced Penalties for DUI when Accompanied by a Child Under 18

In addition to other penalties that may be imposed, a person who commits a DUI while a child under 18 was in the vehicle will be incarcerated for at least 30 days and fined at least $1,000. If, however, the child suffers serious bodily, the offender will be incarcerated for two to 12 years and fined up to $5,000. If the child is killed, the offender will be incarcerated for 8 to 30 years and fined up to $25,000.

Ignition Interlock

The sentencing judge may order any DUI offender to operate only a motor vehicle that is equipped with an ignition interlock device for up to one year after the driver’s license revocation period expires. If the offender had a prior DUI conviction within five years, the offender must operate only a motor vehicle that is equipped with an ignition interlock device for at least six months.

Commercial Drivers

In addition to other penalties that may apply under Tennessee’s DUI laws, a commercial driver who commits a first DUI while driving a commercial vehicle will be disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle for at least one year. If, however, the driver was operating a commercial vehicle and transporting hazardous materials at the time, the disqualification period is three years. A commercial driver who commits a second DUI while driving a commercial vehicle will be disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle for life, which may or may not be reduced to a period of not less than 10 years.

Drivers Under 21

Drivers under 21 commit underage DUI commit a Class A misdemeanor when they drive with a BAC of .02 or more and will be fined $250. The driver's license suspension period is one year. As additional punishment, the sentencing judge may impose community service work.

The crime of "delinquent underage DUI" applies to children 16 but under 18 and is punishable by a driver's license suspension of one year and a fine of $250. As additional punishment, the judge may impose public service work.

What is Tennessee’s Dram Shop Act?

Under Tennessee’s Dram Shop Act, a licensed drinking establishment may be liable to pay money damages for personal injuries caused by intoxication if the establishment sold alcohol to a person known to be under 21 or to an obviously intoxicated person and it is shown that the sale and consumption of that liquor caused the injury.

Criminal Liability for Selling Alcohol to Minors

It is a crime for a licensed drinking establishment to sell alcohol to persons under 21. For a first offense, violators are subject to a fine of $500 to $1,000 and 30 days to six months in prison. For a second offense, violators are subject to a fine of up to $3,000 and one to six years in prison. Second-time offenders will also have their liquor licenses permanently revoked.

Criminal Liability for Furnishing Alcohol to Minors

It is a crime for a person to furnish alcohol to a person under 21. Violators face up to 11 months and 29 days in prison, a fine of up to $2,500, or both. These offenders will also be required to perform 100 hours of community service work.

Need more information on state laws? Learn more about the laws where you live.

Note: Our attorneys are licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia. This information is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia, although if you are injured in an accident, we have relationships with other personal injury attorneys and lawyers throughout the United States.

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