Parents (and Minors) Beware- Underage Drinking & Driving License Loss in Connecticut
How can the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspend my child’s driver’s license for a non-vehicle related offense? Why has my insurance premium sky-rocketed when we’ve not had any accidents? As a new group of teenagers have come of driving age (and college students come home for break), a brief refresher of some key underage drinking laws will help answer the above questions.
Possession of Alcohol by a Minor. Pursuant to Conn. Gen. St. § 30-89 any minor (a person under age 21) in possession of alcoholic liquor shall have committed an infraction. An infraction occurs regardless of whether the minor’s possession occurs in a public place (i.e. concert, sporting event, etc.) or on private property (i.e. your home, a friend’s house, etc.) or as a vehicle passenger or as a vehicle driver (who is sober). In 2006 the law changed to include private property in an effort to combat underage drinking house parties hosted by parents. While an infraction is not a crime (therefore not resulting in a criminal record) a first offense infraction is typically punishable by a $100+ fine, usually payable by mail. Subsequent offenses carry fines of $200 to $500.
Consequence of “Paying the Infraction Fine". Minors caught possessing alcohol will typically be given by the police a ticket that instructs that the infraction fine can be paid by mail. Minors (and parents) unknowingly pay the fine hoping to put the issue behind them. Paying the fine, without consulting an attorney, can be a costly mistake as discussed below.
DMV License Suspension to Follow. While people mistakenly believe that driving under the influence (DUI)) is required to suspend a minor’s license that is not the case. Pursuant to Conn. Gen. St. § 14-111e, the DMV is required to suspend driving privileges for any persons convicted of possession of alcohol by a minor (§30-89). By paying the fine the minor is convicted of the infraction. Currently, the DMV has a mandatory 30-day license suspension which many people are not aware of until they receive a suspension notice in the mail. In cases where a minor is operating a vehicle with alcohol in it (unless accompanied by that minor’s legal age parent, guardian or spouse) the mandatory suspension is for 60 days. Where an unlicensed minor is convicted of possession of alcohol the DMV will delay issuing a new license for 150 days after that minor is otherwise qualified to obtain a driver’s license.
Insurance Premiums May Sky-Rocket. Many insurance carriers do not distinguish the circumstances surrounding the license suspension and simply consider it an alcohol related license suspension. Depending on your insurance, and if you have a preferred policy providing discounts for having auto and home policies, an alcohol related suspension of one of your listed drivers could severely raise your rates, and in some instances drop your coverage. Months after suspension you may become aware of a premium rate increase and it can take years before returning to lower premiums.
What Options Are Available? The first (and best) option is to talk with your minor child (including those returning from college) and educate them of the risks and costs so that they do not engage in such behavior. If however, a minor receives a possession of alcohol or other alcohol related offense, you should consult an attorney before sending payment of a fine or agreeing to the charges. Sometimes the offense can be challenged and/or the minor can have the charges dismissed after providing community service to the Court’s satisfaction. If an infraction has already been paid (i.e. a “conviction" has occurred), and a DMV license suspension has not yet happened, then Pursuant to Conn. Gen. St. § 54-95b then within 4 months of a judgment being rendered by separate motion the judgment can be opened at the Court’s discretion (a more complex process).