Tennessee DUI Laws

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Bonnie Stinson
Updated on Apr 27, 2022 · 7 min read
Tennessee DUI laws say that anyone with a blood or breath alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or above can be charged with a DUI. Drivers who are operating a commercial vehicle may not exceed a BAC of 0.04%. It’s illegal to drive while under the influence of any substance in Tennessee.
Did you know more than 10,000 people are killed every year in the US as a result of drunk driving crashes?
It is dangerous—and a crime—to drive while under the influence of intoxicants like alcohol and drugs (even legal drugs). Penalties vary by state, but even a first-time offense could cost a driver thousands in legal fees and fines. Plus, a DUI can trigger a huge increase in your car insurance rates.
Jerry has compiled everything you need to know about the DUI laws in Tennessee.
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What is a DUI?

DUI is an acronym that stands for driving under the influence. Some states use different terms to mean the same thing, like DWI (driving while intoxicated), OUI (operating under the influence), or OWI (operating while intoxicated).
You can be charged with a DUI for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (this includes legal drugs like prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and marijuana).
In Tennessee, you can be charged for a DUI even without driving. If you are in "actual physical control" of the vehicle while intoxicated, you can be charged.

DUI in Tennessee

In Tennessee, it is illegal to operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol level of:
  • 0.08% or higher
  • 0.04% if you’re driving a commercial vehicle
  • 0.02% if you’re under 21 years old
You can be charged with a "per se DUI" if your BAC is 0.08% or higher, even if you’re not actually impaired. That’s because each person requires a different amount of alcohol to reach intoxication, based on body size and type of alcohol.
Key Takeaway There’s a zero-tolerance policy for underage drivers. People under the age of 21 may not carry alcohol inside a vehicle unless a parent is present and the container is unopened, full, and sealed.
Every state in the country, including Tennessee, has an implied consent law. This law says that you consent to be tested if an officer suspects you of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
You do not have the right to consult with a lawyer before you take the test. If you are lawfully arrested for a DUI, you are required to submit to a test. The officer may request a blood or breath test, but only a breath test is required without a warrant.
It is an offense to refuse to submit. Your license will be revoked for one year on a first refusal and two years for a second refusal within a ten-year period.

Penalties for DUI in Tennessee

Tennessee DUI penalties are harsh and the conviction will remain on your driving record for at least ten years, possibly for life.
A judge will determine exactly how much jail time and fines you will receive. However, they are limited by certain parameters, like your prior offenses and the severity of the situation.
Is a DUI a felony in Tennessee? No, a first conviction is considered a misdemeanor. It’s unlikely that a court will dismiss or reduce your DUI case, but Tennessee law doesn’t prohibit it.

First conviction

A first DUI conviction in Tennessee could result in these penalties:
PenaltyDescription
Fine$350 to $1,500
Jail48 hours to 11 months
License suspensionOne year
Ignition interlock deviceYes
Vehicle impoundmentPossible
SR-22 requirementYes
If your BAC was found to be 0.20% or higher, you will be required to spend seven days in jail. If the driver was behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle, then their commercial license could be revoked.

Subsequent convictions

If you are convicted of a DUI more than once in a ten-year period, you will be subject to increased penalties. These could include serious fines (up to $10,000), a multi-year license revocation, and even forfeiture of your vehicle.
PenaltyDescription
Fine$600 to $10,000
Jail45 days to 11 months
License suspensionTwo to six years
Ignition interlock deviceYes
Vehicle impoundmentPossible
SR-22 requirementYes
A judge may require you to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your vehicle. An IID can prevent your vehicle from starting if it detects any amount of alcohol on your breath.
You may be allowed to serve a jail sentence on work release. This means you can continue employment but return to the jail after work each evening. A judge may also suspend the remainder of your jail time and order probation if you serve the minimum time. Probation often includes having to complete a substance abuse assessment and treatment program.
After the suspension period, it may be possible for you to obtain a temporary restricted license that permits you to drive when necessary (i.e., to work) if you agree to:
  • Complete the prescribed DUI program
  • Only drive vehicles that have an ignition interlock device
  • Pay the reissue and restriction fees to the state
  • Follow other requirements set out by the court
Key Takeaway Minimum penalties are usually increased if you had a very high blood alcohol concentration or if you were involved in an accident where someone was injured—even for a first conviction.
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Does a DUI impact car insurance in Tennessee?

Yes. With a DUI on record, you are now classified as a high-risk driver. Insurance companies pay close attention to DUI convictions and usually increase their premiums.
If you are struggling to find car insurance with a DUI on your record, let Jerry help you. The Jerry app can help you shop around with multiple providers to find good rates. The smartphone app only takes 60 seconds—no confusing forms or judgmental salespeople.
With a DUI on your record, expect substantially higher rates than your previous payment. Tennessee drivers with a DUI are also required to find an insurance company to file an SR-22 on their behalf. This policy confirms that a driver has the state-mandated minimum insurance.

Other effects of a DUI

On top of increased insurance rates and financial penalties, you could also face the following consequences as a result of a DUI conviction:
License revocation: Your license may be revoked temporarily.
Ignition interlock device: Every state has a version of the ignition interlock program. A judge may compel you to install this device which can disable an engine if any alcohol is detected on the driver’s breath.
Background checks: DUI convictions show up on your background check. This means that any employer can see your record if they pull a check on you—and they could refuse you employment.

How to find cheap insurance after a DUI

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