Tennessee Drunk Driving Laws and Penalties

Learn about the penalties for a first, second, and third DUI conviction in Tennessee.

Tennessee prohibits a person from driving or being in actual physical control of a vehicle under either of the following conditions:

  • the person has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or greater (.04% or more if the driver was operating a commercial vehicle), or
  • the person is “under the influence” of any intoxicant, marijuana, controlled substance, controlled substance analog, drug, substance affecting the central nervous system, or combination thereof.

Tennessee law defines “under the influence” as being impaired to an extent that the driver's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle is affected.

A driver who has a BAC of .08% or more can be convicted of a “per se DUI,” regardless of his or her level of actual impairment. The volume of alcohol necessary to reach these BAC levels can differ depending on the person’s gender, body size and the type of alcohol. But our BAC calculator and BAC table can give you an estimate of where your BAC might be at after a certain number of drinks.

Tennessee DWI Penalties

When convicted of a DWI, the judge will decide how much jail and fines will be, but is limited by certain parameters. These parameters depend on how many prior DUIs the offender has that occurred within the past ten years. However, in deciding how to sentence the offender within these parameters, the judge can consider priors within the past 20 years. Prior DUI offenses that occurred in Tennessee, as well as other states, are counted.

1st Offense

2nd Offense

3rd Offense

Jail

48 hours to 11 months, 29 days (7-day minimum with a .20% BAC or more)

45 days to 11 months, 29 days

120 days to 11 months, 29 days.

Fines

$350 to $1,500

$600 to $3,500

$1,100 to $10,000

Work-release. Judges can allow a DUI offender to serve a jail sentence with work-release. Work-release permits the person to continue employment, but return to the jail after work each evening.

Probation. Provided the offender serves the minimum jail, the judge can suspend the remainder of any jail time and order probation. DUI probation usually includes having to complete a substance abuse assessment and follow any recommendations.

Vehicle forfeiture. Judges can order the forfeiture of any vehicle used in the commission of DUI offense.

Driver’s License Sanctions

For a DUI conviction, the court will order the driver’s license be suspended for the following periods:

  • First offense. One-year driver’s license suspension.
  • Second offense. Two-year driver license suspension.
  • Third offense. Six-year driver’s license suspension.

If the driver was operating a commercial vehicle at the time, their commercial driver’s license could be revoked entirely.

Restricted license. To alleviate some of the hardship, judges are permitted to issue a temporary restricted license during a DUI suspension. Generally, this license may be used only for travel related to work, school, or treatment purposes. The use of an ignition interlock device (IID) might also be required for a restricted license.

Implied Consent and Refusing a Chemical or Breath Test in Tennessee

Tennessee’s “implied consent” laws require all drivers lawfully arrested for a DUI to submit to a breath test. While the officer may request a blood or breath test, only a breath test is required without a warrant.

An unlawful refusal leads to a one-year suspension for a first occurrence and a two-year suspension for a second offense within ten years.

Plea Bargaining in Tennessee DUI Cases

If you get charged with a DUI in Tennessee, you might be hoping prosecution will dismiss the case. However, unless the court throws out evidence that’s critical to prove the charge, it’s unlikely a prosecutor will agree to do so. But Tennessee law doesn’t prohibit reducing a DUI charge to a lesser offense. So, depending on the circumstances, a reduction could be an option.

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