If you have a teen driver in your household, can you treat them as your personal designated driver? Parents of teenagers with youth instruction permits may be tempted to hand over the keys when they have had too much to drink. But will that be enough to avoid drunk driving charges? Can the police charge you with DUI as a passenger supervisor to a permitted driver?
Connecticut has relatively strict rules for what new drivers must do to graduate from a learner’s permit (called an “instruction permit”) to an unrestricted driver’s license. There are vision tests, written tests, and mandatory instruction hours both in the classroom and through on-the-road training. When all of this is complete, new drivers must pass a road skills test at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Even after the DMV driver’s permit process is complete, young drivers still face restrictions on when, how, and with whom they are allowed to drive. 16- and 17-year-old drivers may not:
Often, parents act as their teens’ passenger supervisor for months while their kids are on their driver’s permit. While licensed driving instructors are available, parents are still the ones sitting beside new drivers for most of their on-the-road training.
Sometimes, parents may see this training mandate as an opportunity. They may hand over the keys to a new driver to avoid drunk driving themselves. If something happens and the police stop your vehicle, you may wonder who would face criminal charges in that case, you or your child.
Connecticut law does not specifically prohibit the person riding along with a driver trainee from being intoxicated. The law says the holder of a instruction permit may operate a motor vehicle “under the instruction of, and accompanied by:
Like many other states’ DUI laws, the Connecticut statute is silent as to the passenger supervisor’s alcohol use. That means there is no obvious path for police to give you a DUI if you are the passenger supervisor of a teen with an instruction permit.
That’s not the case in other states. Illinois and North Carolina both have laws against acting as a driving instructor or supervisor with a substantial blood alcohol content. Our neighbor, New York, has been trying to pass a law prohibiting passenger supervisors from acting under the influence of alcohol or drugs for years.
Still, if your teenage driver is pulled over or gets into an accident while you are drunk, the police may try to find ways to charge you as well. Depending on the situation, you might be charged with public intoxication or reckless endangerment for putting a driving trainee behind the wheel when you could not reasonably drive yourself. However, these kinds of charges often are not a perfect fit. By working with an experienced DUI lawyer, you may be able to build a defense, showing that what you did was not actually against the law.
It is also worth noting that your teenage driver could be the one drunk driving. For underage drivers, the legal limit on their blood alcohol content is 0.02% -- low enough that a single beer might push them over the limit. If a teen driver is stopped and charged with DUI, speeding, reckless driving, or other alcohol-related violations, their license will be seized on the spot and their car towed. As their parent, you will be required to appear in person at the police station to retrieve your child’s driver’s permit and vehicle.
If your child is eventually convicted of operating under the influence (OUI) as an underage motorist, they could face up to 6 months in jail, $500 - $1,000 in fines, and mandatory probation. They will also have their license suspended for 45 days, and an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle for one year. Repeated violations come with even higher penalties.
A teenager with a learner’s permit shouldn’t be treated as their parent’s designated driver. But Connecticut law doesn’t specifically allow parents to be charged with DUI as a supervising passenger. If you find your teenager or yourself facing alcohol-related charges after a traffic stop or accident, you should speak to a DUI attorney right away. At the Lebedevitch Law Firm, we have helped many Connecticut drivers and parents defend against drunk driving charges. We will help you protect your teen’s driver’s license, so they can focus on your schoolwork. Contact us for a free consultation.