What if the Drunk Driver Who Hit Me Was Underage?

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A blurred out, drunk, smiling teenager in a santa hat, leaning out from the driver's seat with a bottle of bear in hand.Raleigh, North Carolina, is known for its multitude of colleges and universities. According to College Simply, there are almost 160,000 college students living here in and around Raleigh.

Unfortunately, the college experience often brings underage drinking with it. Peer pressure is the main reason why underage college students drink alcohol, and most young people do not believe that something as terrible as a major car accident will ever happen to them.

Their youth also brings inexperience, so they may not know how seriously alcohol will impair their ability to drive.

North Carolina has a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy for anyone under 21 years old. As one of the toughest states on offenders of driving while under the influence, one would think that people would not take the risk of drunk driving, but people make unwise decisions every day.

What Percent of Accidents Are Caused by Drunk Driving Underage?

Approximately one-quarter of fatal crashes for teenagers involve an underage drunk driver.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2021, 27% of young drivers aged 15 to 20 years old who were killed in car crashes had a blood alcohol content of 0.01 g/dL or higher.

Teenagers consume alcohol and operate motor vehicles approximately 2.4 million times every month in the United States. 40% of all fatal drunk driving accidents involve an underage driver.

Over 350 teenagers are killed every year as passengers in underage drunk driving accidents, and 56% of those teenagers were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the collision.

30% of teenagers admit that they were a passenger of an underage, drunk driver, and 10% of teenagers admit to driving after consuming alcohol.

Consequences for Underage Drunk Driving

It is illegal for anyone under 21 years of age to consume alcohol in North Carolina. If you are hit by an underage drunk driver, you can expect that driver to have to face serious consequences of both criminal charges and administrative penalties.

Administrative Penalties

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is responsible for imposing administrative penalties on driving while intoxicated offenders.

Underage drunk drivers have their driver’s licenses revoked at the time of their arrest as a civil suspension and again when they are convicted as a criminal suspension.

The immediate license revocation is for 30 days. If convicted, the offender will lose their driver’s license for one year.

Just like with adults, underage drivers are subject to North Carolina’s implied consent law.

This law states that since driving is a privilege, everyone who chooses to drive on North Carolina’s public roads is therefore consenting to take a breath test for alcohol if asked to do so by an officer of the law.

A police officer will choose to administer the test on anyone they suspect is driving while intoxicated. The driver has the right to refuse the test but will be penalized by losing driving privileges for a year.

The revocation stays in effect even if the driver is not convicted of drunk driving in court. Underage drivers are not allowed to have any alcohol in their system while driving, so even the smell of alcohol on their breath is enough for a conviction of a DWI.

Criminal Penalties

A driver under 21 years old can potentially face charges of driving while intoxicated, as well as underage driving while intoxicated. The charges of each will not be combined, but the offender will have to face the higher maximum penalties of the two.

In North Carolina, underage DWI is a class two misdemeanor that carries a maximum fine of $1000 and up to 60 days in jail.

The judge has the discretion of whether to send the offender to jail or put them on probation and have them perform community service or attend an alcohol treatment facility. The offender also has to undergo a drug and alcohol assessment, as well as any recommended treatment.

If the underage drunk driver already has a DWI on their record, their punishment can be either community, intermediate, or active for up to 45 days at the discretion of the court.

Intermediate punishment would be probation, as well as electronic house arrest, and having to stay in a residential program, special probation, participation in a day reporting center, or drug treatment court.

Jail time is considered an active punishment. If the driver is given less than 90 days, it will be served in a county jail; anything more than 90 days will be served in a state prison.

Dram Shop Laws For Underage Drunk Drivers

Serving someone under 21 years old is illegal. According to the dram shop law in North Carolina, a victim of a drunk driving accident caused by the underage driver’s intoxication can seek compensation from the establishment or host that served the alcohol.

A business or person can be held partially responsible for the accident if the following factors are true:

  • The drunk driver was under the legal drinking age of 21 years old
  • The person who provided the alcohol was negligent
  • The accident was caused because the driver was drunk
  • The injuries the victim suffered were caused by the underaged driver being drunk

Negligence on the part of the alcohol provider can be something as simple as forgetting to check the customer’s identification or as complicated as knowingly selling alcohol to someone acting on behalf of the underage driver.

The first example can be proven by witness statements and security camera footage. The second example would be more difficult to prove.

The business or person was not negligent if the customer was using a fake identification unless the falsification was readily apparent.

Call the Heavy Hitters to Make Sure You Get the Compensation You Deserve

Whether the drunk driver was an adult or underage, you still deserve compensation for all damages you have incurred. At Tatum and Atkinson, you can expect our drunk driving attorneys to treat your case like any other, seriously and without holding back.

Call us at (800) LAW-0804 for a free consultation today to see how we can handle your case. We will investigate your case for every avenue of possible negligence that caused your accident and hold them responsible.