The Special Challenge of Teenage Drinking and Driving in North Carolina

If you are the parent of a teenager, in the back of your mind you are always dreading a phone call late at night telling you that your son or daughter has been arrested for drunk driving.

It’s not an unreasonable worry. Studies find that over 70 percent of all teenagers drink alcohol. It’s not that anyone is actively promoting drunk driving among teens, but teens don’t always exercise good judgment. Too often, a teenager’s peers won’t challenge his decision to drive after drinking, in part because they don’t want anyone questioning their own newfound sense of independence.

The consequences are exactly what you’d expect. Law enforcement officers will stop some vehicles because erratic behavior on the road makes them suspect an intoxicated teen driver is behind the wheel. Sadly, sometimes the police only learn about a teenage drunk driver when an accident occurs. Teenage boys with a blood-alcohol concentration of .05 to .10 percent are 18 times more likely to suffer a single vehicle crash than teen drivers who do not drink—and teen girls are a full 54 times more likely to crash.

Multiple layers of legal trouble

If law enforcement in North Carolina detains your teenager for driving drunk, your kid is in deep trouble. There are at least three different ways that civil and criminal action can be initiated against your son or daughter:

  • Status offense. Possession and consumption of alcohol by a teenager in North Carolina is a status offense—an act that is illegal purely because the offender is a minor. Your child could be classified as delinquent or undisciplined by the court. A teenager can be assigned protective supervision, be placed on probation, or be committed to a North Carolina youth development center or detention centers.
  • Criminal offense. Driving while intoxicated is a criminal act in North Carolina. If your child is under the age of 16, he will not be treated as under adult criminal law but under the state juvenile justice system. If the court determines he actually was driving drunk, he will be classified as a delinquent juvenile. Older teenagers will face adult criminal charges for DWI offenses.
  • Civil liability (and maybe more criminal offenses). If a teenage drunk driving incident ended in a traffic accident where there was property damage or injury, then your child may be vulnerable to a civil lawsuit. As his parent, you yourself may also be liable, if you own (or partially own) the vehicle your child was driving, or cosigned the financing on the car, or if you pay or have paid part of the car insurance premium. If the traffic accident was fatal, then your child faces a potential wrongful death civil lawsuit as well as a homicide criminal charge.

It is absolutely possible for all these levels of legal trouble to come crashing down on your family at the same time. Never forget that teen drivers are part of the mix in 40 percent of all fatal traffic accidents involving alcohol.

Getting help when your daughter or son is in trouble

As criminal defense attorneys in Wilmington, we can assure you that there are effective defense strategies against North Carolina DWI charges. And that’s important to know, because the consequences of a criminal court conviction—as well as juvenile court adjudication—can be very damaging to your child’s future. Without aggressive action to limit this damage, your son or daughter can face long-term harm to future employment prospects and educational opportunities.

Call Speaks Law Firm at 910-341-7570 (local) or 877-593-4233 (statewide toll-free). Connect with one of our North Carolina DWI defense attorneys to begin planning the best available outcome for your child. It’s important that you seek legal representation as soon as possible, so act today. It’s the right thing to do for your son or daughter.

R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.