Zero Tolerance Bill

Automatic Driver’s License Suspension for Age Laws

The zero tolerance bill, Senate Bill 35 authored by Royce West and the Senate Committee on Juvenile Driving While Intoxicated Laws, took effect September 1, 1997.

What does the passage of this bill mean for Texas? It significantly strengthens the consequences to a minor for underage drinking. It is now illegal for a minor to drive while having any detectable amount of alcohol in the minor’s system.

The consequences for the minor on the first offense of the zero tolerance law:

    Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500
    Attendance at an alcohol awareness class
    20 to 40 hours of mandatory community service
    60 days driver’s license suspension. The minor would not be eligible for an occupational license for the first 30 days.

A second offense increases the consequences to:

    Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500
    Attendance at an alcohol awareness class at the judge’s discretion
    40 to 60 hours of mandatory community service
    120 days driver’s license suspension. The minor would not be eligible for an occupational license for the first 90 days.

A third offense is not eligible for deferred adjudication. The minor’s driver’s license is suspended for 180 days and an occupational license may not be obtained for the entire suspension period. If the minor is 17 years of age or older, the fine increases to $500 to $2,000, confinement in jail for up to 180 days, or both.

Changes to Other Alcohol Related Age Laws

Senate Bill 35 also significantly strengthened other minor related laws and added automatic driver’s license suspension to the penalties. Minors who purchase, attempt to purchase, possess, or consume alcoholic beverages, as well as minors who are publicly intoxicated or misrepresenting their age to obtain alcoholic beverages face the following consequences:

    Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500
    Alcohol awareness class
    8 to 40 hours community service
    30 to 180 days loss or denial of driver’s license

If a minor is seventeen years of age or older and the violation is the third offense, the offense is punishable by a fine of $250 to $2,000, confinement in jail for up to 180 days or both, as well as automatic driver’s license suspension.

Sale or Giving Alcohol to a Minor

Adults and minors who give alcohol to minor or buy the alcohol for the minors also face a stiffer penalty. The punishment for making alcoholic beverages available to a minor has been increased from a class C misdemeanor (fine of $0 to $500) to a class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $4,000, confinement in jail for up to a year, or both.

Sale to a minor is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $4,000, confinement up to a year in jail, or both.

Important Note:
It is important to discuss with adolescents the reality of what happens if they are arrested for drinking and driving. Stress that if the adolescent is drinking and driving they do risk arrest and if they are arrested they will be handcuffed, taken to jail, processed through the system, fingerprinted, parents called and they will have to go through the legal process.

Their parents will be affected by coming to pick up their adolescent at jail, will have to pay a bail bondsmen to get them out, pay for an attorney and go to the trial with the adolescent. Throughout the process, the adolescent looses the trust with the parents and experiences consequences legally, socially and in the family unit.

In addition, if an adolescent is riding in the car where alcohol is present or at a party where alcohol is being served, they can be charged with minor in possession which will put them in the legal system and experience the consequences of their choices.