Need to know Tennessee DUI Laws



In the state of Tennessee, driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or higher is illegal and can lead to driving under the influence (DUI) charges. The legal limit for drivers under 21 is .02, and for commercial drivers, it’s .04 percent.

Implied Consent in Tennessee

Like many other states, Tennessee has an implied consent law. What this means is that you are required to take a breath, urine or blood test if you are taken into custody on suspicion of DUI. The purpose of a chemical test is to determine your BAC. The police officer is allowed to decide which test to administer and might request that you take more than one kind. It is required that the tests are administered as quickly as possible after you were last driving. Individuals who refuse chemical testing are penalized by the law.

When you are taken into custody, the police officer is required to inform you that your driver’s license will be suspended should you refuse the chemical tests. A first-time refusal will result in a one-year suspension. If the current refusal is connected with an accident in which there have been serious injuries or fatalities, the length of suspension will increase. If the accident included serious injuries, the suspension for refusal will be two years. If the accident resulted in a fatality, the suspension for refusal will be five years.

Tennessee DUI penalties

A first conviction for DUI in Tennessee may result in a jail sentence of two days up to 11 months and a one-year license suspension. A judge may require the installation of an ignition interlock device if the convicted driver had a BAC of .15 and above, a passenger under age 18 in the vehicle or refused a chemical test.

A second DUI conviction might result a jail term of 45 days up to one year, a fine from $600 to $3,500 and a two-year license suspension. An ignition interlock device might be mandated for a period of six months if the second DUI takes place within five years of the first, the driver had a BAC of .15 or more, there was a passenger under the age of 18 in the vehicle or the driver refused a chemical test.

A third DUI conviction might result in a jail term of 120 days to one year, a fine of $1,100 to $10,000 and a license suspension of three to 10 years. A fourth DUI is categorized as a Class E Felony and might result in 150 days in jail up to the maximum for a Class E Felony, a fine of $3,000 up to $15,000 and a license suspension of five years up to indefinite.

Additional penalties for all DUI convictions might include the seizure or forfeiture of your vehicle, 24 hours of litter pick-up in three eight-hour shifts, drug or alcohol treatment assessment, a mandatory alcohol awareness program and penalties for child endangerment if there was an underage passenger in the vehicle.

Changes to Tennessee DUI Laws

Tennesee made changes to DUI laws that became effective on June 23, 2010. The state changed its prior 10-year calculation for a previous conviction. Penalties will now be recalculated for each new violation. In Tennessee, a first-time offender will serve a minimum of 48 hours in jail, and a second-time offender will serve a minimum of 45 days and pay increased fines and lose driving privileges for more time.

What Is The Legal Alcohol Limit In Tennessee?

Just as other states in the U.S., Tennessee has a legal alcohol limit of .08 percent. This blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is applicable to people who are of legal drinking age in passenger vehicles. Commercial motorists are subject to a BAC limit of .04 percent, and individuals under 21 can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) having a BAC of .02 percent or greater.

The consequences handed down by state courts for driving under the influence are largely based on the number of offenses. For example:

  • A first-time DUI can result in up to 11 months in jail, a license revocation of one year and a fine of $1,500.
  • A second offense may also yield 11 months in jail, but a license revocation could be longer (up to two years) and a fine may be larger (up to $3,500),
  • A third DUI offense can result in an 11-month jail sentence as well, but a license revocation period of 6-10 years could be applied along with a fine of up to $10,000.

Punishments for subsequent penalties get worse from there. A fourth or higher offense is a felony and will come with longer mandatory jail sentences, higher fines and other enhanced penalties.

Ignition Interlock Requirements In Tennessee

All motorists convicted of DUI are required to have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed. This equipment requires a person to submit a passing breath test before a vehicle will start.

Some conditions of an IID include:

  • A breath sample with an alcohol level of .02 percent represents a failed test.
  • Retests are required while a vehicle is in motion; anyone who drinks alcohol while driving and fails a retest must pull over.
  •  Tampering with a device can lead to additional penalties.

People required to install an ignition interlock device must cover the expenses. Costs vary by provider, but yearly IID expenses can total more than $1,000.

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