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The Basics of Tennessee Drunk Driving Laws



Tennessee drunk driving laws are fairly straightforward. There are two ways that a person may be charged as a Tennessee drunk driver. One is based on blood-alcohol content (BAC), while the other one is based on a driver's impairment due to alcohol, regardless of the Tennessee driver's blood-alcohol content.

If you have been charged with committing DUI, also known as DWI, in Tennessee you will want to educate yourself about Tennessee drunk driving laws. You will also want to set up a meeting with a Tennessee drunk driving attorney to discuss possible Tennessee DUI defense strategies.

What is Tennessee Drunk Driving?

You are in violation of Tennessee drunk driving laws if your blood-alcohol level is .08 percent or higher. You are also breaking the law in Tennessee if your BAC is less than .08 percent but you are too impaired to drive due to alcohol. This means, regardless of your blood-alcohol content, you can be charged with a DUI in Tennessee.

Most DUI offenses are considered class A misdemeanors in Tennessee. However, if you commit four or more DUIs, you will be charged with a class E felony.

Tennessee also has a zero-tolerance law to deter drivers under 21 from drinking and driving. This law makes it unlawful for someone under 21 to drive with a BAC of .02 or more.

Tennessee DUI Traffic Stops

For a police officer to stop you and charge you under Tennessee drunk driving laws, the officer needs to observe driving behavior that gives him or her reason to believe you are intoxicated.

Examples of questionable driving behavior include:

  • Swerving from side to side
  • Crashing a red light or a stop sign
  • Driving too fast or too slowly
  • Driving on the wrong side of the ride
  • Breaking frequently, too quickly, or too slowly
  • Driving with your headlights off
  • Hesitating at a green light

Once the officer has pulled you over, he or she will try to detect whether you have been drinking by looking for certain behavioral and physical cues. These cues include:

  • Your breath smells of alcohol
  • You have trouble focusing your eyes
  • You are behaving erratically
  • Your speech is slurred

Field Sobriety Tests

After observing your behavior, the officer may next ask you to perform a few field sobriety tests.

These tests may include one of the following tasks:

  • Balancing on one foot with your arms to your sides
  • Walking in a straight line, turning, and repeating
  • Following a moving object with your eyes while keeping your head still

Implied Consent Laws in Tennessee

If caught in Tennessee drunk driving, you may be asked to submit to a breathalyzer test to gauge your BAC. A breathalyzer test measures a person's BAC based on alcohol concentrations in his or her breath.

Like most states, Tennessee has implied consent laws. This means that when you apply for a Tennessee driver's license you agree to consent to breathalyzer tests and other chemical testing to check your BAC. If you refuse a breathalyzer or chemical test, you could suffer the following penalties:

  • Revocation of your driver's license for a year upon your first refusal
  • Revocation of your driver's license for two years upon your second refusal
  • Revocation of your driver's license for two years if you refuse and your DUI resulted in another's bodily injury
  • Revocation of your driver's license for five years if you refuse and your DUI resulted in another's death