Underage DWI's on the rise

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A drink, two or even more, that's not the problem.  The issue is getting behind the wheel after those drinks, something cops and even DWI lawyers like Carl Babin say is that there's an increased age group they're starting to see a lot more of.

"25% of the DWI cases I see on a regular basis are probably children or kids under 21," said Babin.  "I would say it's at its peak right now, and I think it's been like that for the past 10 years."

The legal blood alcohol limit for adults is 0.08, but it's different for those under the age of 21.

"The legal limit for those under 21 is 0.02 but there are exceptions," said BRPD's L'Jean McKneely.

Louisiana law states there are four exceptions that allow people between the ages of 17 and 21, to drink legally:

  • for religious purposes such as wine at communion
  • if you're accompanied by a parent, spouse or legal guardian who is 21 years or older
  • if the alcohol is prescribed for medical purposes
  • or in the privacy on your own residence

"With the exception of those four, you're not allowed if you're under 21 to consume any alcohol, certainly not in public," said Babin.

Anyone 16 years or younger is considered a minor.  If an adult provides any minor with alcohol, they can be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile.

Babin said LSU has a lot to do with underage DWI's adding that he's noticed an increase in DWI arrests anytime classes are in session.  Plus, law enforcement has ramped up their aggressiveness with targeting drinking and driving through federal grants for sobriety checkpoints.

"We target impaired drivers.  Anyone who we believe is under suspicion of driving while intoxicated, we check them out to see if they have been drinking or impaired while driving," said McKneely.  

Those under the age of 21 found drinking could face additional charges depending on the circumstances.  In some cases, they can be charged with open container or even minor in possession.

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