Tennessee DUI Laws & Penalties

Tennessee Drunk Driving Laws Explained in Easy to Understand Simple Terms

In Tennessee, DUI laws are stringent, focusing on maintaining safety on the roads by penalizing driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicants.

Tennessee law offers alternative sentencing options like diversion programs or probation, especially for those eligible for substance abuse education or treatment. Defendants also have several potential defenses against DUI charges, such as questioning the accuracy of BAC tests or the legality of the traffic stop​ (Divorce Lawyers | Family Law Attorneys)​.

Tennessee’s DUI laws emphasize rehabilitation and prevention alongside stringent penalties to deter impaired driving. For anyone facing DUI charges in Tennessee, consulting with an experienced DUI attorney is crucial to navigate the complexities of the law and explore all available defense strategies.

Key Points of Tennessee’s DUI Laws:

  • BAC Limits: Tennessee law sets a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit of .08% for most drivers and a lower limit of .04% for commercial vehicle drivers. A BAC at or above these levels is sufficient for a DUI charge​ (dui.drivinglaws.org)​​ (www.alllaw.com)​.
  • Penalties: Penalties, including jail time, fines, and license suspension, increase with each subsequent DUI offense within 10 years. For example, first offenses can lead to almost a year in jail, up to $1,500 in fines, and a one-year license suspension. Penalties escalate significantly for second, third, and subsequent offenses​ (dui.drivinglaws.org)​​ (www.alllaw.com)​.
  • Implied Consent: Tennessee’s implied consent law states that by driving in the state, drivers automatically consent to submit to chemical tests (breath, blood, or urine) to determine the presence of alcohol or drugs if lawfully arrested for a DUI​ (dui.drivinglaws.org)​​ (www.alllaw.com)​.

Table of Contents

There is a lot of information regarding DUI offenses in Tennessee, so we have provided you with a quick reference table. You can jump to the section you need more information on or read through the entire page.

Penalties for a First-Offense DUI in Tennessee

In Tennessee, the penalties for a first-offense DUI can be quite severe, reflecting the state’s commitment to curbing impaired driving. Here’s an overview of what you can expect if convicted of a first DUI offense:

1. Financial Penalties
  • You may be fined between $350 and $1,500. In addition to fines, you’ll likely face additional financial burdens such as attorney fees, court costs, higher insurance premiums, and possible restitution to any victims. The total cost can be significant, sometimes exceeding $5,000​ (Legal Beagle)​​ (Joshua T. Crain Attorney)​.
2. Jail Time
  • A first-offense DUI carries a jail sentence ranging from 48 hours to 11 months and 29 days. If your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.20% or higher, the minimum jail time increases to at least seven consecutive days​ (Legal Beagle)​​ (Joshua T. Crain Attorney)​.
3. License Revocation
  • Your driving license will be revoked for one year. You may be eligible to apply for a restricted license, which could allow you to drive under certain conditions, like going to work, school, or court​ (Legal Beagle)​​ (Joshua T. Crain Attorney)​.
4. Substance Abuse Treatment
5. Ignition Interlock Device (IID)
  • An IID may require you to blow into a breathalyzer before your car starts. This is at your own expense, and the minimum cost for maintaining an IID for a year is about $1,000​ (Legal Beagle)​​ (Joshua T. Crain Attorney)​.
  1. A first offense could escalate to a felony if there are aggravating factors, such as causing injury or death while driving under the influence, which would carry much more severe penalties​ (Legal Beagle)​.

It’s also important to note that Tennessee DUI laws are strict, and driving or being in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence can lead to arrest. The law applies to those over the legal drinking age with a BAC of 0.08% or greater, commercial drivers with a BAC of 0.04% or greater, and drivers under 21 with a BAC of 0.02% or greater​ (Findlaw)​.

Tennessee’s implied consent law means that driving on Tennessee roads means consenting to BAC testing. Failure to comply with these tests can result in additional penalties, including a one-year license revocation for a first refusal​ (Findlaw)​.

Facing a DUI charge can be overwhelming, and understanding the potential consequences is crucial for anyone in Tennessee facing such charges.

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Penalties for a Second Offense DUI in Tennessee

For a second DUI offense in Tennessee, the penalties are more severe than those for a first offense, reflecting the state’s effort to discourage repeat offenses. Here’s what one could expect:

1. Financial Penalties
  • Fines for a second DUI offense range from $600 to $3,500. This is in addition to other costs associated with the offense, such as attorney fees, court costs, higher insurance rates, and possibly restitution payments to victims. The financial impact is significantly higher than that of a first offense​ (Legal Beagle)​​ (Findlaw)​.
2. Jail Time
  • Tennessee’s mandatory jail time for a second DUI offense is significantly longer, ranging from 45 days to 11 months and 29 days. This is part of the state’s strategy to impose stiffer penalties for repeat offenders to deter future DUI incidents​ (Legal Beagle)​​ (Findlaw)​.
3. License Revocation
  • Convicted individuals will face a license revocation for two years, up from one year for a first offense. After this period, individuals may apply for reinstatement of their driving privileges, but this often involves completing certain requirements and paying a reinstatement fee​ (Legal Beagle)​​ (Findlaw)​.
4. Vehicle Confiscation
  • For a second offense, vehicle confiscation or forfeiture is possible. This penalty aims to remove the means of committing further DUI offenses and serves as a significant deterrent against repeat offending​ (Findlaw)​.
5. Ignition Interlock Device
  • The installation of an IID may be required for a second DUI offense. This device prevents a vehicle from starting if it detects alcohol on the driver’s breath. The requirement for an IID is part of the conditions for reinstating driving privileges and aims to reduce the risk of future DUI incidents​ (Legal Beagle)​​ (Findlaw)​.
6. Mandatory Alcohol Education, Assessment, and Treatment

The penalties for a second DUI offense in Tennessee are designed to be punitive and rehabilitative, aiming to deter repeat offenses and address the behaviors that lead to impaired driving. Given the seriousness of these penalties, individuals facing a second DUI charge are advised to seek legal counsel to navigate the complexities of the law and the legal system.

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Penalties for a Third Offense DUI in Tennessee

For a third DUI offense in Tennessee, the penalties are quite severe and include:

  • Mandatory jail time ranges from 120 days to 11 months and 29 days, possibly more, depending on the circumstances.
  • Fines ranging from $1,100 to $10,000.
  • License suspension for six years, with no eligibility for a restricted license.
  • The requirement to install and use an ignition interlock device at the offender’s own expense if driving privileges are eventually reinstated.
  • Vehicle seizure or forfeiture may also be a possibility.
  • There are additional penalties for those found to have a high blood alcohol content (BAC) or who were involved in an accident causing injury or death.

These penalties aim to significantly deter repeat offenses and reflect Tennessee’s seriousness regarding driving under the influence.

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Penalties for an Underage DUI in Tennessee

In Tennessee, penalties for underage DUI (for drivers under the age of 21) are distinct from those applied to adults. They are aimed at reflecting the zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. Here’s a summary of the consequences:

  • For drivers aged 18 and over but under 21: The offense is considered a Class A misdemeanor. Penalties include a one-year driver’s license suspension and a $200 fine​ (Justia Law)​.
  • First Offense Underage DUI: Results in a one-year license suspension, a fine of up to $250, and possible community service. The conviction remains on the individual’s record, potentially impacting future opportunities​ (Barnes & Fersten Law Firm)​.
  • Zero Tolerance Policy: This applies to drivers under 21. If you are under 21 and drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.02% or higher, you face arrest for DUI. This standard is stricter than the 0.08% BAC limit for drivers 21 and older​ (Findlaw)​.
  • Underage Driving While Impaired (Ages 16 – 20): Penalties include a one-year license revocation (with no provision for a restricted license), a $250 fine, and possibly court-mandated community service​ (AltshulerLaw)​.

These penalties illustrate Tennessee’s stringent approach to combating underage drinking and driving, emphasizing both punishment and potential rehabilitation through community service.

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CDL DUI Penalties

In Tennessee, CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) holders face stricter DUI (Driving Under the Influence) penalties compared to non-commercial drivers due to the potential for greater harm when operating large or commercial vehicles. Here are the key penalties and considerations for CDL DUI offenses in Tennessee:

  • Lower BAC Limit: A CDL holder can be charged with a DUI for operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least .04 percent, which is half the legal limit for non-CDL holders (.08 percent).
  • License Suspension: A first-time DUI offense leads to a one-year commercial driver’s license suspension. This is in addition to any suspension of the driver’s regular license, which can range from 30 to 90 days.
  • Criminal Penalties: A first-time DUI under a CDL is considered a class 1 misdemeanor, the most serious category of misdemeanor. This could result in fines up to $2,500 and up to six months of jail time.
  • Professional Impact: Beyond the immediate legal consequences, a DUI conviction can severely impact a commercial driver’s professional life, affecting their current employment and future job prospects in commercial driving.

These penalties underscore Tennessee’s strict approach toward DUI offenses among CDL holders, reflecting the higher standards of responsibility expected from commercial drivers​ (Eldridge & Blakney, PC)​​ (SuperLawyers.com)​.

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Aggravated DUI Circumstances

In Tennessee, DUI charges can be elevated to “aggravated DUI” under certain circumstances, making the legal consequences significantly harsher. Here are some of the situations that can lead to an aggravated DUI charge:

  • High Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC): A BAC level of 0.20% or higher can result in harsher penalties even for first-time offenders, including a mandatory minimum of seven days in jail​ (McEvoy Criminal Law)​.
  • Multiple Offenses: Repeated DUI offenses can increase jail time, fines, and other penalties​ (Aggravated DUI)​.
  • DUI with a Minor Passenger: Drunk driving with a minor in the vehicle can lead to additional charges and penalties​ (LawInfo.com)​.
  • Causing an Accident that Results in Injury or Death: If a DUI results in an accident that causes serious injury or death, the charges can be significantly more severe​ (LawInfo.com)​.
  • Refusing to Submit to a BAC Test: In some cases, refusing to submit to a blood alcohol concentration test can lead to additional charges or be used as aggravating evidence in a DUI case​ (LawInfo.com)​.

These aggravated circumstances are treated very seriously in Tennessee, reflecting the state’s commitment to reducing DUI-related accidents and fatalities.

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Additional Consequences

In Tennessee, aside from the direct penalties associated with DUI convictions, such as fines, jail time, and license suspension, several additional consequences can significantly impact an individual’s life. Here are some of the key additional consequences of a DUI in Tennessee:

  • Ignition Interlock Device (IID) Requirement: Convicted individuals may be required to install an IID in their vehicles, which prevents the vehicle from starting if alcohol is detected in the driver’s breath.
  • Increased Insurance Costs: After a DUI conviction, individuals often face significantly higher auto insurance premiums, as insurers consider them high-risk drivers. This condition, known as SR-22, can last for several years.
  • Employment Impact: A DUI conviction can have severe repercussions on current and future employment, especially for jobs that require driving, involve security clearances, or are within certain professional fields.
  • Criminal Record: A DUI conviction will appear on criminal background checks, affecting eligibility for certain jobs, professional licenses, and educational opportunities.
  • Educational Consequences: College students convicted of DUI may face disciplinary action from their institution, lose scholarships, or encounter difficulties pursuing higher education.
  • Travel Restrictions: Some countries may deny entry to individuals with a DUI conviction, which can affect travel plans and opportunities.
  • Financial Strain: Beyond fines and increased insurance rates, individuals may face legal fees, costs associated with alcohol education programs, and the installation and maintenance of an IID.
  • Alcohol and Drug Education Programs: Offenders may be required to attend and complete DUI school or substance abuse treatment programs as a condition of their sentence or for reinstatement of their driving privileges.
  • Community Service: Courts may order individuals convicted of DUI to complete a certain number of hours of community service, which can be both time-consuming and potentially impactful on one’s personal and professional life.

These additional consequences highlight the extensive impact a DUI conviction can have on an individual’s life, well beyond the immediate legal penalties.

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DUI Education Classes

In Tennessee, individuals convicted of a DUI are often required to complete an educational program at an approved DUI school as part of their sentence or to have their driving privileges restored. These DUI classes aim to educate offenders on the dangers of alcohol and drug use while driving and to prevent future offenses. Here are some key aspects of Tennessee’s DUI classes:

  • Length and Types of Classes: The duration and content of the classes can vary depending on the offense and the court’s specific requirements. Classes can range from 8 to 20 hours and cover topics such as the effects of alcohol and drugs on driving, the legal consequences of DUI offenses, and strategies to avoid future DUIs.
  • Costs: These classes vary, with some programs listing fees of around $150. It’s essential to note that the offender typically bears these costs in addition to any fines, court costs, or other penalties associated with the DUI conviction.
  • Certification: DUI classes must be certified by the Department of Health or other relevant state authorities. Participants must ensure that the state recognizes the program they choose to meet the requirements of their conviction.
  • Registration and Availability: Offenders are usually required to register for these courses, which may be offered at various locations throughout the state. Some programs may allow online registration, while others might require in-person enrollment.

For more detailed information about specific programs, including registration procedures, class schedules, and payment options, individuals should refer to the Tennessee State Government website or contact specific providers directly​ (Tennessee State Government – TN.gov)​​ (ETHRA)​​ (A+ DUI-Knox TN)​.

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Ignition Interlock Requirements

In Tennessee, ignition interlock devices (IIDs) are used as a measure to prevent individuals convicted of DUI from operating their vehicles under the influence of alcohol. These devices require the driver to provide a breath sample before the engine will start, and periodically while the vehicle is in operation, to ensure the driver’s sobriety. Here are some key points about the use of ignition interlock devices in Tennessee:

  • Mandatory Installation: The installation of an IID is mandatory for all individuals convicted of DUI in Tennessee, including first-time offenders, as part of their sentence. The court may order the IID for a period that extends beyond the driver’s license suspension period.
  • Cost and Maintenance: The cost of installing, leasing, and maintaining an IID is the responsibility of the offender. This includes installation fees, monthly rental fees, and any necessary maintenance or calibration. The average cost can range from $70 to $150 for installation and about $60 to $90 per month for leasing and maintenance.
  • Restricted Driver’s License: Individuals with an IID may be issued a restricted driver’s license, which allows them to drive to certain places, such as work, school, or alcohol treatment programs, provided they are driving a vehicle equipped with an IID.
  • Compliance Monitoring: The IID records all breath test results, attempts to tamper with the device, and any bypass attempts. This data is monitored by the authorities to ensure compliance with the program.
  • Violation Penalties: Failure to comply with the IID requirements, such as attempting to tamper with the device or driving a vehicle without an IID, can result in additional penalties, including extended IID requirements, further license suspension, or other legal consequences.
  • Program Duration: The required duration for an IID varies depending on the severity of the offense and any prior DUI convictions. The court determines the specific period during which the offender must use the IID.

IIDs are seen as a way to balance allowing DUI offenders to regain some driving privileges while ensuring public safety by preventing drunk driving incidents. For more detailed information or assistance, individuals should consult with their legal counsel or contact the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security.

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Implied Consent Law

In Tennessee, the Implied Consent Law is a critical aspect of DUI (Driving Under the Influence) enforcement. This law means that by driving on Tennessee roads, drivers have given their implied consent to submit to blood alcohol content (BAC) testing if they are arrested by law enforcement under suspicion of DUI. Here are the key components of the Implied Consent Law in Tennessee:

  • Consent to Testing: By driving in Tennessee, drivers automatically agree to take a breath, blood, or urine test to determine their level of intoxication if stopped for suspected DUI.
  • Refusal Penalties: Refusing to take a BAC test when requested by a law enforcement officer can lead to serious consequences, even if the individual is not ultimately found guilty of DUI. Penalties for refusal include mandatory license suspension for a period that can vary depending on the driver’s prior offenses:
    • First offense: License suspension for 1 year.
    • Second offense: License suspension for 2 years if the refusal is within 10 years of a prior DUI conviction or refusal.
    • If the refusal to submit to testing occurs in connection with a crash where someone is injured, the suspension can be for 2 years. If the crash results in a fatality, the suspension period can be up to 5 years.
  • Enhanced Penalties: The refusal to submit to testing can result in enhanced penalties in addition to those for a DUI conviction, particularly if an accident involving injury or death occurred.
  • Search Warrants: In some cases, if a driver refuses to submit to testing, law enforcement may obtain a search warrant to forcibly collect blood samples for testing.
  • Impact on DUI Defense: Refusal to submit to BAC testing can affect the defense strategy in a DUI case, as it eliminates specific evidence that could potentially be in the driver’s favor. However, it also removes a direct measurement of BAC from the evidence against the driver.
  • Implied Consent Hearing: Drivers who refuse the test have the right to request an administrative hearing regarding the suspension of their license. This hearing is separate from the criminal DUI proceedings and focuses on the refusal to submit to BAC testing.

The Implied Consent Law is designed to facilitate the prosecution of DUI offenses by ensuring that evidence of intoxication is available. However, it also raises important considerations regarding individual rights and the procedures for contesting a refusal charge. Individuals facing charges related to DUI or refusal to submit to BAC testing should consult with a legal professional to understand their rights and options.

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Driver License Hearings

In Tennessee, the process and consequences of DUI offenses, including administrative hearings, are structured to address and penalize driving under the influence rigorously. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about DUI administrative hearings and related procedures in Tennessee, based on the provided sources:

  • License Suspension After DUI Arrest: The Tennessee Department of Safety (DOS) may suspend your driver’s license within 10 days of your arrest, prior to any conviction. You have a 10-business-day window to request an administrative hearing to challenge this suspension​ (Shepherd & Long, PC)​.
  • Restricted License: Post-initial DUI conviction without serious bodily injuries or death, you might be eligible for a restricted license, allowing travel between specified locations like work, school, and DUI education classes​ (Shepherd & Long, PC)​.
  • Nature and Purpose: DUI administrative hearings, also known as implied consent hearings, are separate from criminal proceedings and are focused on license suspensions due to implied consent law violations. Winning an implied consent hearing does not affect the criminal DUI charges​ (Leviner Law)​.
  • Process: At the hearing, the arresting officer must prove probable cause for the DUI arrest and the implied consent suspension. Your defense might include challenging the probable cause, the administration of the breathalyzer test, or the operation and calibration of the testing equipment​ (Leviner Law)​.

Understanding these components is crucial for navigating DUI charges and their consequences in Tennessee. For specific guidance or legal advice, it’s recommended to consult with a skilled DUI attorney familiar with Tennessee’s laws and procedures.

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DUI Lawyers

If you’re looking for a DUI lawyer in Tennessee, you have several experienced attorneys to choose from, each with their unique strengths and areas of expertise. Here are a few notable names:

  • Nate Ogle specializes in criminal defense, family law, and general civil litigation. Born and raised in Seymour, Tennessee, Nate began practicing law in 2013 after earning his degree from the Appalachian School of Law​ (Justia)​.
  • Daniel Morrell is an experienced trial attorney focusing on criminal defense and DUI defense. He is committed to serving his clients and building enduring relationships, operating out of Knoxville, TN​ (Justia)​.
  • James A. Turner from Murfreesboro, TN, offers services in DUI, criminal, and personal injury law. With over a decade of experience, Jimmy Turner is known for his dedication to his clients’ cases​ (Justia)​.
  • Matt Maniatis, based in Nashville, TN, has a background in law from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. He is recognized for his work in DUI & DWI cases among other areas of law​ (Attorneys – LII Attorney Directory)​.
  • Jedidiah “Jed” McKeehan from Knoxville, TN, offers expertise in DUI & DWI, leveraging his deep knowledge of Tennessee law to serve his clients effectively. Jed graduated from Samford University​ (Attorneys – LII Attorney Directory)​.
  • Garth Best, a Chattanooga, TN DUI & DWI attorney, has proven himself in the courtroom and is recognized by national legal associations. He aims to offer tenacious defense for his clients​ (Attorneys – LII Attorney Directory)​.
  • George Frank Lannom focuses on DUI, Arbitration & Mediation, Construction, and Criminal law from Mt. Juliet, TN. He has a strong commitment to his clients’ best interests and legal rights​ (Attorneys – LII Attorney Directory)​.
  • Eric M Larsen in Franklin, TN, is well-regarded for his work in DUI & DWI among other areas. His extensive experience and strategic approach have been instrumental for his clients​ (Attorneys – LII Attorney Directory)​.

Each of these attorneys offers a free consultation to discuss your case and how they can help. When choosing a lawyer, consider their specific experience in DUI law, their approach to client representation, and their familiarity with the local legal system. This will ensure you have the best possible defense for your case.

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Additional Tennessee DUI Resources
  • Tennessee DUI First Offense – Detailed first offense information, including punishments after a first-offense DUI in Tennessee.
  • Tennessee DUI Classes – Get signed up to complete your required DUI class online today.
  • Tennessee SR22 Insurance – Learn everything you need to know about Tennessee SR22 filing requirements with the DMV and find out how you can save hundreds of dollars each year on your Tennessee SR22 insurance.
  • Tennessee DUI Lawyers – Contact one of our Tennessee DUI lawyers today to discuss your pending DUI case.
  • Tennessee Bail Bond Agents – Contact a Tennessee bail bond agent to get out of jail.
  • Tennessee Non-owner Insurance – If you need an SR-22 filing, but don’t own a vehicle, you need to get a non-owner policy.