All New York drivers are subject to the state's DWI and DWAI laws that prohibit driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol or with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more. However, New York additionally has more strict impaired driving rules that apply to drivers who are under the age of 21.
New York's underage drunk driving law prohibits drivers who are younger than 21 years from operating a vehicle after consuming alcohol. However, the law gives underage drivers a little leeway by setting the BAC limit at .02%. So, underage drivers can be charged with a violation if caught driving with a BAC of at least .02% but less than .08%.
An underage DWI—unlike most New York DWI and DWAI offenses—isn't considered a crime.
Instead of having to go to criminal court—as would be the case with a normal DWI—a driver who's charged only with violating New York's underage per se statute will be referred to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for a hearing. And it'll be a DMV commissioner, as opposed to a judge or jury, who will decide whether the driver is guilty of the charge.
A motorist found guilty of violating New York's underage per se law will face a six-month license and have to pay a $125 civil penalty. However, most of these motorists will be able to get a conditional license (generally, for driving to and from work and school) if they participate in the "Impaired Driver Program," formerly called the "Drinking Driver Program."
A violation of the underage per se law is considered a second offense if the motorist has a prior underage per se law violation or DWI/ DWAI conviction. A second offense carries a license suspension of one year or until the driver turns 21 years old—whichever is longer—and a $125 civil penalty. Drivers found guilty of a second offense won't be eligible for the Impaired Driving Program or a conditional license.
Anyone, including an underage driver, can get a DWI for driving with a BAC of .08% or more or while impaired to a "substantial degree" by alcohol. Also, any motorist can be convicted of a DWAI for driving while impaired to "any extent" by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two.
Underage drivers who are convicted of a standard DWI or DWAI are generally subject to the same penalties as drivers who are at least 21 years old, with a few exceptions. Drivers who are at least 21 years old and get convicted of a DWI or DWAI typically face 90-day or six-month license suspensions. But for an underage driver, a DWI or DWAI conviction carries a one-year suspension. Also, motorists who are over 21 will typically have their driving privileges completely restored after completing the Impaired Drivers Program. Underage drivers who complete the program, on the other hand, will still have to complete the full one-year suspension period before being allowed to drive without restrictions.
New York's DWI laws are extremely complicated and full of nuances. If you've been arrested or charged with a DWI or DWAI, an experienced DWI attorney can help you understand what you're up against and what you should do next.