In an effort to crack down on under-aged drinking drivers, the legislature has enacted a zero tolerance policy directed at that group.
If a driver is under age 21, and is stopped while driving under circumstances where an officer has reason to believe the driver has alcohol in his or her system, the driver can be arrested and required, under threat of loss of license, to take a blood or breath test. If the test shows an alcohol concentration of .02 or above, the driver can be charged with a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine under RCW 46.61.503. Such a conviction will appear on the driving record which, for an under-aged driver, will result in serious insurance consequences, but no license suspension occurs because of the conviction. As will be seen below, there is “administrative action” taken by the Department of Licensing independent of a court conviction for RCW 46.61.503.
A minor who has consumed alcohol but is not driving will face license suspension and high risk insurance if convicted of the crime commonly known as “Minor in Possession/Consumption of Alcohol,” RCW 66.44.270, but this punishment occurs when the conviction is reported to the DOL, as opposed to “administrative action” taken by the DOL independent of court action. A conviction under this section is a gross misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
In the case of a minor driving after consuming alcohol, the arresting officer is required to notify the Department of Licensing when the test results are .02 or higher. Upon receipt of that information, the Department will suspend the under-aged driver’s license for 90 days. The driver is entitled to a hearing before the Department within 60 days of the date of arrest, but it must be requested within 20 days of the arrest, and the request must be accompanied by a check for $375 in order to secure a hearing (unless the driver can prove he is indigent.) At the hearing, a Hearing Examiner will determine whether there was a lawful arrest by an officer having reasonable grounds to believe the driver had alcohol in his or her system, whether or not the driver was informed of his or her rights under the implied consent law, whether the test was properly administered, and whether the test result was .02 or more. If the license suspension is sustained at the hearing, the driver’s license is suspended for 90 days the first time, or for one year or until the driver turns age 21 the second time, whichever is longer.
If the driver refuses testing, the license is revoked for one year the first time, two years the second time, or until the driver turns age 21, whichever is longer. In order to get the driver’s license reinstated, the driver must obtain high risk insurance, which for a young driver will cause extreme increases in premiums.
A youthful offender can also be prosecuted for DUI, the same as an adult, if the breath test result is .08 or greater, or, if the prosecutor can prove the driver was impaired at the time of driving. All of the same penalties apply to a minor in this situation that would apply to an adult if convicted of the same DUI.