By on September 2, 2016

breathalyzer DUI (KOMUnews/Flickr)

State lawmakers in Tennessee weren’t expecting to have the financial rug pulled out from under them when they passed a new DUI law earlier this year.

The law, which boosts penalties for younger drivers caught with alcohol in their bloodstream, is in violation of federal standards. Now, the state is scrambling to stop the loss of $60 million in federal road funding.

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the law, which passed unanimously in the state Senate, must be repealed by October 1 to avoid noncompliance.

Federal law mandates a maximum blood-alcohol content of 0.02 percent for drivers under the age of 21. Tennessee’s law kept that maximum for drivers 17 and younger, but raised it to 0.08 percent for drivers aged 18 to 21.

The law came with steep penalties for the older cohort — if caught exceeding the limit, they’ll face the same punishment as someone 21 or older charged with a DUI (mandatory 48 hours in jail, a fine of up to $1,500 and a one-year driver’s license suspension). The earlier law saw less severe penalties for 16 to 20-year-olds who blew over 0.02.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Federal Highway Association aren’t happy. In a statement, the agencies said, “The new law raising the allowable BAC for 18- to 20-year-old drivers above the federal limit makes the roads more dangerous for everyone and does not comply with the federal zero tolerance law.”

Both agencies are prepared to yank 8 percent of the state’s federal roads funding. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam told the Associated Press that the funding is “too big of a chunk of change to lose.”

The Governor and Attorney General Herbert Slatery want a federal waiver to keep funding (and the law) on track. In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Slatery claimed the state was still in compliance with the federal statute, as it remains illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcohol.

[Image: KOMUnews/Flickr]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

41 Comments on “Tennessee Tug-of-War: State Could Lose $60 Million in Federal Funding over DUI Law...”


  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    They should take a cue from the executive branch. Laws don’t matter. Which ones you enforce and against who is what matters.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    So are we going to discuss raising the age of registration for Selective Service, enlistment, and voting to 21? If you can’t handle booze I’m not sure I want you deciding who to shoot in my squad or who gets elected to decide if you are going to go somewhere to pull that trigger. On the flip side if you go and perform those tasks seems silly to say you can’t decide to have a beer when they get home.

    • 0 avatar
      operagost

      I honestly didn’t know about this age-discriminatory federal law. I thought this article was going to be about the human rights violations of the TN law in regards to “implies consent” for blood draws. So they’re being both “lax” (by actually allowing young adults to be judged the same as their older brethren) and tyrannical (by imposing discomfort and violating our right to be secure in our persons).

      We have unfair federal laws like this because of the income tax. Until that amendment allowed direct taxes on income without apportionment among the states, income tax basically wasn’t done (constitutionally) because the federal government would have had to split the funds equally among the states instead of doing what it pleased with it. Now, the federal government gets to take the wealth from citizens and use it to disenfranchise them from their own state governments by using the funding as political pressure.

      I’m not stating this as some sort of whack-job Wesley Snipes argument, but just a fact that long-ago choices are continuing to have far-reaching negative consequences. We should be thinking about this whether we’re forest-dwelling anarchists or government-loving socialists.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        these laws have teeth because states have become dependent on federal money with strings attached.

        In fact, the states are free to set the drinking age wherever they want, the constitutional amendment ending prohibition specifically gave states the authority to regulate alcohol.

        But the federal government will withhold various payments like the federal gas tax distribution for highways until a state “complies” with the federal age 21 “guideline”.

        The bottom line is that Congress and the federal bureaucracy don’t let a little thing like the Constitution prevent them from exercising powers they don’t, and should not, have.

    • 0 avatar
      Sloomis

      On the one hand, I concur, it is ridiculous you can join the military, fight for your country and then go home and not be able to buy a beer. On the other hand, given the childish, irresponsible self-absorption of the average American, I’m all for keeping the drinking age at 21. And evidence shows it has worked as it was intended to combat drunk driving. I’ve always thought a good compromise would be to exempt active military members and allow them to legally drink at 18 with a valid military ID.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        I am not aligned with the proposition that because you are violent with America’s enemies you get to drink alcohol before your brain has matured sufficiently to drink responsibly.

        You would likely change the population of the armed forces if they viewed the primary reason for joining to be that you get to drink. This does not sound like something that will improve America’s defense.

        • 0 avatar
          raph

          Agreed VoGo, If anything allowing soldiers to legally drink at 18 would just produce the same results at 18 as they do at 21.

          Although on the other hand the way alcohol is treated in the US has a lot to do with the problem. Its taboo (and even considered a form of child abuse if you let your kid have a drink before the legal age) until you hit 21 and then its no holds barred!

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al From 'Murica

          Guess you haven’t been in many firefights. Lot more to it than simple violence. Movies are one thing but the reality of warfare today is when to shoot vs when not to shoot is likely to be one of the more complex decisions made in ones life.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            I haven’t been in any firefights, and I hope I never will. But I do know that there is a reason that militaries focus recruiting efforts on 17 year olds.

            40 year olds may be more capable of making the complex decisions you describe, but 18 year olds can more easily be brainwashed into doing the things that need to be done in battle.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            My first firefight was well past that age. The top thing that is required is that you stay alive. Thing 2 is to suppress the fire coming at you. Again, enjoy your war movies but the reality is somewhat different.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          You’re too late: enlisted men aged 18-20 can drink at any on-base enlisted mens’ club and always have.

          BTW, the weapons the military now uses require sufficiently mature brains to operate. That’s why we have a volunteer military that is better educated than its civilian age group.

          You might hear a college professor disparage the military as dropouts and the poor, but they’re stuck in a time warp and channeling the 1960s draft era that ended with the volunteer military 40 years ago.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            Your last two paragraphs are a Truth all us college-snob Boomers need to learn. Thugs and dopes seldom make it through to an honorable discharge any more.

            I’m not sure but I think it’s because the dummy work has been outsourced.

      • 0 avatar
        Compaq Deskpro

        From my friend who signed up for the Army at 18, alcoholism as well as prescription drug abuse are rampant, regardless of the age. Nearby clubs will happily take your fake ID, cops catching you drunk driving will send you off with a warning as long as you go back to base (the real punishment comes later, from a likely belligerent drunk sergeant). Alcoholism courses that you must take if its determined you have a “problem” are not taken seriously, just show up and leave. Fine tuning laws will have no effect on the military’s substance abuse (and related mental health) problems.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        “On the other hand, given the childish, irresponsible self-absorption of the average American….”

        This would be pretty much any 21-year-old. Internationally.

    • 0 avatar
      John

      Pretty much established that the human brain isn’t fully developed, and decision making capabilities are immature until around age 25. That is probably why militaries the world ’round chose young men under age 25 to do the brunt of the fighting and dying – older, wiser men might decide to settle differences in a more mature way than mortal combat.

      • 0 avatar
        usernamealreadyregistered

        “That is probably why militaries the world ’round chose young men under age 25 to do the brunt of the fighting and dying – older, wiser men might decide to settle differences in a more mature way than mortal combat.”

        We send young men under 25 into combat precisely because older, “wiser” men haven’t settled their differences in a way that doesn’t involve mortal combat.

        I’ve met lots of foolish grunts; none has started a war.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Pretty much established NOT. Age 25 is when your car insurance goes down, because you likely have enough experience behind the wheel to drive safely.

        Decision-making abilities don’t mature at a specific age, and in some people it NEVER develops. The unnamed research you cite is bunkum.

  • avatar
    jjster6

    The US of A, like most countries, has no shortage of silly laws!!!

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      http://www.dumblaws.com

      When I was a Social Studies/History/Government teacher and things would get dull after a quiz, the student’s and I would take some time looking at some of the more idiotic things written into the law.

  • avatar
    kmgreen23

    It would be much easier for those politicians in Tennessee to have their assistants research possible impacts of current proposals of law and if they run afoul of current stipulations. Since this was obviously not performed, repeal the law before Oct. 1. Trying to get an exemption from a known stipulation shows a lot of arrogance and a pure grab for money. The governor’s statement mentions the money, not what the impact of the law may have. As a retired Army MP, I understand the desire for those who want active duty to have a legal drink. I have seen underage drinking and it bothers me more when they try to drink far beyond what they can handle. Those over 21 do it as well but they don’t face legal repercussions as long as they aren’t driving or harming others. Balance deterrence, enforcement, and punishment equally on all circumstances and this country would be better off. And not just when it comes to drugs.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The state should grow a pair and drag the federal government to the Supreme Court, charging the feds with an unstitutional end run around the 21st amendment, granting the states the power over alcohol.

      • 0 avatar
        Brad2971

        This was tried back in 1987, in South Dakota v Dole. SCOTUS sagely ruled that, yes indeed, the feds reserve the right to put its own terms and conditions on the money it hands out, and so South Dakota was forced to be the last state to raise the drinking age to 21.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    Federalism at work! They chose to make a law in contradiction to the efforts of the Federal government and now are losing the largesse that the Federal Government was giving out. I fail to see the problem in this. Think of it like capitalism to all you right-wingers out there. The Federal government was offering to pay Tennessee to do something they preferred. Tennessee opted not to do it and is now losing out on that payment.

    As for the science behind this, everything we know about alcohol suggests that people probably shouldn’t drink until their mid-20s due to brain development. Before people bring up foreign cultures and drinking habits, I will point out those cultures have a modest drinking view. The US has a binge style, where it isn’t a glass of wine during dinner or a beer after work, it’s a series of beers over the entire night or a series of drinks over the entire weekend. So we have reasons for these positions that are more based on science than people accept or comprehend.

    I’m not always on the side of the Feds this is there dollar to give and compliance with mandates for those dollars is how they get it done. Federalism in action is perfectly in line with ‘state’s rights’ fanboys…

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    Why not let states simply decide their own rules of the road rather than DC dictating traffic laws to all 50 states?
    Why does a Senator from Vermont get to dictate highway funding for Tennessee?

    The idea of collecting a tax from a state resident, then taking it back to DC, and then making that same state jump through hoops in order to get it back is basically having Washington make every single decision with no local control.

    Give the residents of Tennessee an appropriate refund on their income taxes collected for highway funding if they don’t want to be a part of this shakedown scheme.

    Also, the idea that a completely self-sufficient 20 year old adult can’t have a drink is beyond stupid, we all did this and played the game with the fake ID, etc. Let’s be honest about these stupid blue laws.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      A.) The Interstate Highway System was built by the Federal Government and is largely maintained by them with some state funding. So that’s why a Senator from Vermont gets to decide highway funding in Tennessee. If Tennessee wants to maintain their own interstate system, more power to them.

      B.) DC isn’t dictating anything. They’re offering incentives to comply. This is how federalism works, if a state doesn’t want that money that’s on them.

      C.) Just to be clear, you’re saying that Tennessee residents should get about 2.50 back per person? It doesn’t work that way, taxation is a legal and appropriate way to fund the government. It wasn’t as if Tennessee law makers weren’t aware of their contrary position and have every right to engage in that deal or not.

      • 0 avatar
        jacob_coulter

        A system trying to subvert “federalism” is not a good example of federalism.

        A good example of federalism would be the federal government having a simple mathematical formula to hand out highway fund to different states, not make the state change its own laws in order to receive the funding the state’s residents already sent to Washington. Or not be involved at all in the highway funding and tax collection business.

        Of course, you already knew all that.

        My guess is you would be screaming bloody murder if your “ox was gored” and DC pulled state highway funding for say something like a granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens or if a state refused to check ID at the voting booth.

        I don’t want Washington DC dictating drinking laws to individual states and pushing its ridiculous prohibition MADD agenda.

        • 0 avatar
          Xeranar

          So, you basically just told me you have no idea what cooperative federalism is and never got through that high school civics class. Federalism has no say on whether funding is tied to a specific goal or a simple formula. It says that states are free or NOT to accept the funding if they so wish.

          As for making highway funding tied to something I dislike, eh, suck it up buttercup? I would just fight harder to win the next election and reverse the decision. Whether I LIKE the policy is irrelevant to the fact that this is an accepted piece of the model. It’s getting angry that the knife exists when it cuts you. This is how it works, if you dislike it try to elect more officials who reject the basic premise of the model and will replace the model.

          That being said, I’m not sure why you’ve got such a hard-on over allowing underage drinking? Seriously, the science behind it suggests that any kind of drinking creates impairment and those who drink under 25 are even more susceptible to the effects. We use 21 as it was the original age of adulthood that has since been changed to 18.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        A) The interstate highway system is NOT maintained by the Feds, but by the states, and maintenance funding is 60/40 Fed/state. The states OWN the right-of-way and control traffic on the interstates.

        B) The Feds collect gas tax money in the states and return it with strings. In the case of the legal drinking age, that was left to the states by the 21st amendment, and the Feds are withholding the gas tax revenue to overrule a constitutionally guaranteed state power.

        C) the gas tax was never meant to ‘fund the government’ but to build promote interstate commerce. The states actually built the interstate system and maintain it, and state money is involved. There’s no way to guess how the power-grabbing federal bureaucracy will react to any state law, even one like this that’s within state power.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          Per wikipedia: “In South Dakota v. Dole (1987), the Supreme Court upheld the withholding of some federal highway funds[18] to South Dakota, because beer with an alcohol content below a specified percentage could be lawfully sold to adults under the age of 21 within the state.[19]

          In a 7–2 majority opinion by Chief Justice Rehnquist, the Court held that the offer of benefits is not coercion that inappropriately invades state sovereignty.[20] The Twenty-first Amendment could not constitute an “independent constitutional bar” to the spending power granted to Congress under Article I, section 8, clause 1 of the Constitution.[21] Justice Brennan, author of the majority opinion in Craig v. Boren, provided a brief but notable dissent based solely on Section 2.[22] Justice O’Connor also dissented, arguing that “the regulation of the age of the purchasers of liquor, just as the regulation of the price at which liquor may be sold, falls squarely within the scope of those powers reserved to the States by the Twenty-first Amendment.”[23]”

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          The ratio of federal:state highway funding has varied over time.

          The 21st amendment does not prevent the federal government from tying highway funds to a state’s drinking age, as the Supreme Court has already decided. The 21st amendment repealed the federal ban on alcohol, not all restrictions on alcohol.

          The first federal gas tax was imposed during the Hoover administration as a deficit reduction measure.

          Lorenzo, you need to work on your rate of accuracy because it just isn’t very good.

          And I say that as someone who would prefer to see the drinking age lowered to a loosely-enforced 18. Just because I don’t care for the current regulations does not mean that they are unconstitutional.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Road building is an enumerated power under Article 1 Section 8. Go read your constitution and learn something.

      A Senator from Vermont has been able to dictate highway funding for Tennessee since 1796, when Tennessee became a state.

      On the other hand, traffic laws have been and should remain a state matter. There isn’t much of a rationale for the feds to care about DUI limits on roads that aren’t funded by federal dollars.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    I’m 57 and we had the right to drink when I was 18. It’s funny, but I don’t remember any blood baths and destruction on the highways due to drunk 18 year olds. What I have seen over my life time is a vast wussification of America. I grew up on a farm, we drove tractors as soon as we could reach the clutch/brake. We worked on cars, drive without seatbelts/air bags/and any other modern safety device. There were girls that could change tires, drive a stick, and jump start a car as good as any boy. I don’t think raising the drinking age did anything but get kids a criminal record for something that was legal and should have stayed legal. There have been far too many hand wringing “think of the children” moments. When you take responsibility away from the person, the parents etc and the state becomes the nanny, you just dumb down the population. We are tough because we took risks, we worked hard, we learned to rely on ourselves and not cry mommmie when some jerk tried to bully us, we punched them out and got the respect and even if we got our butts kicked – that bully never bothered us again. Now, we can’t have 2-3 beers and drive without fear that the revenue generating machine won’t bust us for .01 over, never mind the sleepy trucker coming down from his uppers, or the business suit texting, drinking coffee and trying to drive. I have 2 kids of my own, 22 and 18 and although they are brilliant in school (oldest graduated with a 4.0 from the University) they don’t have the self reliance that we had. I tried, but my wife went right along with danger-stranger and the overly protective mentality. But, you know, I do see a light – my oldest has her own place and now finally wants to take a concealed carry class and not be a victim like too many other girls that have been programed to believe the “gun” kills people. OK off my rant and if you agree, thanks, if not – get bent, your opinion sucks.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Tennessee needs to forget the federal funding. legalize pot, tax it at 39% and pave the roads with gold.

  • avatar
    kmgreen23

    DenverMike, I like the sentiment of your statement with one exception. Can you tell me anytime that a tax went exclusively to the intended area? I’ve even seen some states start a lottery to assist education and then divert the funds generated to other uses. Politicians with extra money will find a way to place it where they want it.

  • avatar

    The drinking age was a problem due to the “blood borders”. 18 year olds living in a 21 state knew exactly how far the nearest bar was. The idea of one age was good. It should have been 19, which would have kept it out of High School but would not have made the lives of College Administrators hell…I drank cheap pitchers in the Student Union but my kids would in theory be sanctioned and be forced to take alcohol education courses by the same school for the same thing.

    The problem was, like all good Americans, we had to go prohibition again and do 21….

    The law could have been 18-19 for all, but we are Americans and don’t do “tolerance”, only “prohibition” and “bigger hammer”. This has created a whole group of folks taught to drink in secret and “pre game”. We were drunk at the end of the night out…we didn’t leave that way….that is a big difference. Beer at the Student Union was social….in the open…surrounded by normal folks….a brake on bad behavior.

    Intox driving is bad, but the social policy as pushed by MADD and others has also caused a lot of other problems. They were unable to get their agenda in every state legislature so concentrated on the Feds and got the Feds to use highway money to coerce compliance. Much like the NRA, most politicos live in fear of MADD. For each, we end up with bad social policy as a direct result of good intentions.

    I will always recall, on TV, when Bill Clinton signed the .08 legislation forcing states to all go to that standard. “an when you go back again for .05, I’ll be there with you”. Prior laws were .15 or .10. Lowering it to .08 just meant the person who split a bottle of wine has to worry on the way home, even though they aren’t really intoxicated…which was the whole point.

    Representing DWI clients for a long time…there are two types…those caught out one night, (they get caught after a 57/30 traffic stop, they don’t know don’t do TWO things wrong) and those who are always drunk and drive occasionally (they get busted for hitting a mailbox-they tend to be very careful but …they are always shot…). The increased penalty all hit the first timers but does zero for the always drunk. In my area a first timer gets a mandatory breath tester in the car, for another $2000 for the year in various charges. A valuable probation tool, yes, but overkill for the first timers.

    Me, I drink on my back deck, or call Uber. A taxi is always cheaper than Attorney fees, Court fees, other Court fees, Substance Abuse evaluation, taxis to and from Court, Drinking Driver Classes, MADD victim impact panel (yes they are rooted in the money machine, private lobbying group, ahem), breath test machine in car, other State Driver Assessments, and of course, Assigned Risk Auto Insurance costs. Traffic Tickets are a revenue item, and DWI tickets are revenue items to an order of magnitude higher.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    Strong is the asshattery throughout this thread.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Rocket: The front doors will be conventional for side impact protection. Sliders for the second row would be great if...
  • vvk: Cannot wait! But please, PLEASE, don’t mess with the doors! Just five conventional doors will do...
  • MRF 95 T-Bird: The Fiat 500 still has a standard 5 speed. Same for the Chevrolet Sonic.
  • NG5: I agree too, the current car is low enough for me. Re: 3 Cyl, I took a friend’s 3 Cyl ecoboost (not the...
  • Manic: Except taxpayers’ money is only part of OPM Tesla is experimenting with.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributors

  • Timothy Cain, Canada
  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States