Drinking and Driving in PA: Know the Laws

Written by Erik Perrino, Erie Sprout Creative Director

There are many ways to celebrate summer, but no matter how you choose to do so, be sure you are not supplying alcohol to your teens and their friends. While supplying alcohol to minors may seem like the right thing to do, especially since ‘everybody’s parents are doing it,’ the consequences set and enforced by the state of Pennsylvania are certainly not worth it. With strict laws regarding drinking and driving, underage consumption, and supplying alcohol to minors, make sure you are taking all precautions if planning to provide alcohol around your teen and his or her friends. Below is an outline of the penalties enforced by the state of Pennsylvania for violating such offenses.

For Grownups:
Driving Under the Influence
The State of Pennsylvania prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle by a driver with .08 percent or above blood alcohol concentration (BAC). But, you may also be convicted of a DUI at lower BAC levels, if you are stopped by police for driving erratically (too slow, too fast, straddling the lane, making wide turns, stopping for no reason, failing to obey traffic signs and signals, etc.). If you are under age 21, Pennsylvania’s laws do not permit you to drive with any measurable alcohol in your system. The Pennsylvania law also includes controlled substances such as marijuana, cocaine, inhalants and other intoxicants.

According to Pennsylvania’s implied consent law, all drivers agree to submit to a chemical test of their blood, breath or urine if an officer of the law suspects that they are under the influence of drugs, alcohol or both. If you refuse to submit to such a test, your driver’s license will be suspended for at least one year, and you are considered guilty of a DUI. Like many states, the refusal to submit to testing often brings on harsher penalties than an actual DUI.

When drinking and driving becomes an issue, the penalties become more severe for three things:

  • The higher your blood alcohol concentration
  • The more serious the injuries and damages resulting from a crash while driving under the influence
  • The more times you are convicted for DUI

The zero tolerance law in Pennsylvania establishes serious consequences for those under 21 who drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in their blood. This law was put into effect because traffic crashes are the number one cause of death for teenagers in the United States. If you are under 21 and are convicted of DUI for the first time, you will go to jail for a term ranging from two days to six months, your license will be suspended for a full year, and you will pay a fine of $500 to $5,000.

Supplying Alcohol to Minors
Adults, even parents, who are convicted of knowingly and intentionally supplying minors with alcohol are subject to a fine of at least $1,000 for the first offense and $2,500 for each additional offense and face up to one year in jail. Adults are even liable for guests who drink in their home. If, for example, you had 17 teenagers in your home for a party and they were drinking alcohol, the party could cost you $41,000. That’s $1,000 for the first teenage drinker and $2,500 for each of the other 16 drinkers.

Remember, supplying your teens and their friends with alcohol during a party are not worth the consequences set and enforced by the state of Pennsylvania. If you were planning to provide alcohol at a party, consider finding another activity for your guests, even if they are over 21. You are ultimately responsible for what happens to your guests, even after they leave your property, if you supply them with alcohol or any other controlled substance. The fines and penalties are even greater for providing alcohol to minors, whether or not they are driving. So enjoy the graduation season with friends and family, but think twice before supplying guests with alcohol, especially those under the age of 21.

For Teens:
Underage Drinking
If you are under the age of 21, it is against the law to buy alcohol, consume alcohol, have alcohol in your possession or have alcohol in the vehicle you are driving. Even if you are not driving, your driving privilege will be suspended if you are under 21 years of age and are convicted of lying about your age to obtain alcohol, carrying a false ID card or purchasing, consuming, possessing or transporting alcohol.

The minimum penalties for underage drinking are as follows:

  • A fine of up to $500 plus court costs
  • A 90-day suspension for the first offence
  • A 1 year suspension for the second offense
  • A 2 year suspension for the third and subsequent offenses

If you do not have a driver’s license, you will be ineligible to apply for a learner’s permit for the time period of the suspension. If you are under 16 years of age, your suspension will not begin until your 16th birthday, provided you acknowledge your suspension, and it is received any time prior to your 16th birthday.

Source: Pennsylvania Driver’s Manual. For more information, visit www.dmv.state.pa.us