Tennessee DUI Laws & Penalties

The state of Tennessee models much of its drunk driving laws on the federal laws against drinking and driving. These laws generally discourage drunk drivers by imparting harsh penalties to anyone who chooses to consume high levels of alcohol and get behind the wheel. The legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for adult drivers over the age of 21 in Tennessee is 0.08%. Drivers who are found to be driving with a BAC above this limit will likely face DUI charges.

DUI penalties in Tennessee may include license suspension or jail time, or a combination of these and more. If the driver is operating a motor vehicle at an abnormally high BAC level, above 0.20%, he or she will face increased penalties, even for a first offense. Tennessee judges can even have the car that was driven during the drunk driving arrest forfeited to the state. The forfeited vehicle is then sold for the state’s profit.

Ignition Interlock Devices in Tennessee

Tennessee DUI laws include an ignition interlock device program for motorists convicted of drunk driving. An ignition interlock device (IID) is a breathalyzer installed into the driver’s car. The IID is connected to the vehicle’s ignition and a driver must pass the breathalyzer test before the car will start. Drivers who are required to install an IID as the result of a DUI conviction must locate a state-approved third-party ignition interlock device installer. Each third-party company will have required fees associated with the installation, maintenance, and eventual removal of the device. In Tennessee, these fees include a yearly administrative fee that goes to the state. Ignition interlock device installers may charge up to $150 for the installation of an IID, up to $100 a month for renting and maintaining the installed device, and up to $75 for the removal of the IID. This could lead to almost $1,500 in fees and maintenance costs for a convicted drunk driver in Tennessee.

dui penalties in tennessee

Tennessee First Offense DUI

Tennessee, like many other states, has increased the penalties for first time DUI offenses in recent years. Even if a driver has no history of drunk driving, he or she will face jail time and a license revocation. First-time DUI offenders must participate, at their expense, in the state’s ignition interlock device program. Drivers arrested with a BAC over 0.20%, considered a high BAC, will be required to serve at least a week in jail for a first offense DUI. After a drunk driving arrest, the driver’s license is revoked for one (1) year, though some drivers may qualify for a Restricted License.

  • Jail time: A first offense DUI in Tennessee requires a minimum of 48 hours served in jail. Depending on the criminal history of the driver and the severity of the DUI arrest, a judge may sentence the driver to serve up to 11 months and 29 days in prison. High BAC DUIs (0.20% and over) require seven (7) consecutive days in jail.
  • Fines: Administrative fines for a driver’s first DUI are between $350-$1,000. These fines do not, however, account for any restitution the driver must pay to any person suffering physical injury or personal loss as a result of the drunk driving. Fees also do not include towing of the driver’s vehicle, higher insurance costs, license reinstatement fees, or the cost of alcohol abuse classes and treatment.
  • BAC Test Refusal: Tennessee is an “implied consent” state, meaning that a driver who agrees to the responsibility of a driver’s license consents to take a breathalyzer test if asked to do so by police. Refusing to take the chemical (breathalyzer) test results in a one (1) year revocation of the driver’s license for a first offense.
  • DUI Class Requirement: Any driver convicted of a DUI must participate in an alcohol and drug treatment program at his or her expense.
  • Ignition Interlock Device Requirement: First-time drunk drivers are required to have an IID installed and maintained in their vehicles. The judge will determine the length of time the IID is required based on the severity of the arrest.

Tennessee Second Offense DUI

Drivers arrested for their second DUI in Tennessee face more severe punishments than first-time offenders. In addition to time served in jail, the judge can order that your car be confiscated by the state. When a car is seized from a drunk driver, it is generally sold at auction with profits of the sale going to the state. If a drunk driver caused harm or loss to another person, he or she will have to pay the other party restitution. This may be medical bills, car repair, or any other harm caused by the drunk driver.

  • Jail time: Second-time DUI offenders face mandatory jail time of 45 days, and can be required to serve up to 11 months and 29 days, almost a full year.
  • Fines: In addition to any restitution fees that must be paid to other people involved in a drunk driving accident, the driver must pay fines between $600-$3,500. Other fees and expenses include cost of installing and maintaining an IID. Drivers must also pay the costs associated with any required drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.
  • BAC Test Refusal: Tennessee drivers stopped for drunk driving and refusing to take a breathalyzer test for a second time will face a license suspension of two (2) years.
  • DUI Class Requirement: Similar to a first offense, second-time DUI offenders are required to attend and successfully complete a Tennessee DUI education class.
  • Ignition Interlock Device Requirement: An ignition interlock device must be installed and maintained on any vehicle a second offense drunk driver plans to operate.

Tennessee Third Offense DUI

Any Tennessee driver who is arrested for his or her third DUI must face penalties equal to the severity of the offense. Third-time offenders serve the longest required jail sentence and large fines. Restitution must be paid to any person who suffered loss or injury due to the drunk driver’s actions. A third offense DUI may lead to forfeiture of the driver’s vehicle and a 6-year license suspension with eventual access to a restricted license.

  • Jail time: The minimum jail sentence requirement for third offense DUIs is 120 days, with the possibility of serving up to 11 months and 29 days.
  • Fines: Required fines for a third DUI range from $1,1000 all the way up to $10,000 depending on the severity of the arrest.
  • BAC Test Refusal: Drivers refusing to submit to a chemical test more than twice face a 2-year license suspension.
  • DUI Class Requirement: Successful completion of a state-approved alcohol and drug treatment program is required for third-time DUI offenders. Expenses for these classes and rehabilitation programs are the responsibility of the convicted driver.
  • Ignition Interlock Device Requirement: Installing, maintaining, and the eventual cost of removal of an IID is required for a third DUI offense. An IID must be installed in any vehicle the convicted driver wishes to drive.

DUI Laws for Tennessee CDL

Any person with a commercial driver’s license in Tennessee must follow enhanced alcohol laws to protect themselves and other drivers on the road. Commercial motor vehicles, being larger and more difficult to control than non-commercial vehicles, immediately make drunk driving even more dangerous. The legal BAC limit for Tennessee CDL drives is 0.04%, and driving over that limit can induce heavy penalties.

A driver with a commercial designation who is arrested with a BAC over 0.04% will have his or her CDL disqualified for one year. This applies whether the driving was operating a commercial vehicle or non-commercial vehicle when the arrest was made. Commercial drivers who refuse to take a breathalyzer test will also lose their CDL designation for a year. This penalty is increased to a 3-year disqualification if the driver was transporting hazardous materials at the time of the arrest.

If a commercial driver is arrested for a second offense DUI, he or she will lose the CDL designation for life. The lifetime disqualification occurs regardless of the driver operating a commercial vehicle, non-commercial vehicle, or transporting hazardous materials. Under some circumstances, CDL drivers who have lost their designation for life may be able to reinstate it after ten (10) years.

Tennessee DUI Laws for Drivers Under 21

Tennessee follows a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to underage drinking. The legal drinking age in Tennessee is 21 years old. Underage drivers arrested for their first drunk driving offense lose their license for one (1) year, or until reaching age 17, whichever is longer, under the Drug Free Youth Act. For a second offense of underage drinking and driving, the driver faces license suspension of the longer of two (2) years or reaching age 18. First time offenders of an underage DUI may apply for a restricted license after serving a 90-day suspension, but a second-time offender must serve the full suspension.

Underage drivers who choose to drink and drive will incur court fines of $250. Some judges may require the driver to attend an alcohol rehabilitation class or treatment program. Though it is unlikely for an underage driver to be required to serve jail time, some courts may require the driver serve community service hours.

DUIs in Tennessee

The laws for drunk driving in Tennessee seek to decrease the amount of drunk driving accidents with hefty fees and required jail time. Tennessee drivers arrested for drunk driving will face harsh penalties for their actions. Even first-time offenders must serve time in jail. Any accidents, injuries, or losses caused by the drunk driving must be paid at the expense of the driver. Recent laws requiring all drunk drivers to install ignition interlock devices at their own expense also help to limit drunk drivers on the road.