The problem of drunk drivers on the highways of Tennessee remains a significant issue. Nationwide, more than 10,000 people are killed every year in alcohol-related crashes. Legislatures across the country have increased the severity of the laws that punish intoxicated driving. The Tennessee Highway Patrol aggressively patrols for these drivers, as do the county sheriff’s department and local police.
The DUI laws are frequently amended, as the legislature attempts to provide better tools to law enforcement to reduce the unnecessary and tragic death toll extracted by these crashes. In 2015, the THP made more than 7,800 DUI arrests. The positive effect of this enforcement has been a 20.9 percent drop in alcohol-related deaths.
This year, the legislature made changes to the DUI laws, again increasing penalties for the offense. However, when the bill became law, it had the effect of raising the blood alcohol content levels for drivers under the age of 21 to 0.08, which is the standard for drivers older than age 21.
It is unclear why this was done. The governor claims it was a “policy” decision, but a member of the legislature asserts it was a mistake made by the legislative Fiscal Review Committee, who failed to catch that increasing the BAC limit from 0.02 to 0.08 would take the state out of compliance with the federal government’s zero tolerance policy. The consequences of this change was the potential loss of $60 million in federal highway funds, which the state could ill afford.
The legislature convened in a special session and quickly amended the law to comply with the zero tolerance requirements. While it may have made it simpler if all drivers were held to the same BAC standard, preventing young drivers from operating a vehicle with any level of alcohol in their system is more important.