Florida’s Zero Tolerance Laws

In the state of Florida, the law forbids any driver under the age of 21 to have any amount of measurable alcohol in their blood alcohol content (BAC). The “Zero Tolerance Law” penalizes any driver under 21 years of age who is detected with a BAC as low as 0.20.  


As Zero Tolerance Law defense lawyers who also defend all manner of DUI charges and other alleged criminal offenses, The Stechschulte Nell Law Office wants every person under 21 to fully understand the details about the Zero Tolerance Law (ZTL), what it is, and what it is not. If you or someone you love is facing an administrative suspension based on the Zero Tolerance Law, or any other offense, contact our office for answers to all your questions. We’re here to serve the defense needs of the Tampa and St. Petersburg area community. 



Theory Underpinning Florida’s Zero Tolerance Law 


Since the legal age in Florida to buy or drink alcohol is 21, the state considers there to be no good reason for anyone under that age to be in possession of alcohol. That fact has a powerful impact on the statute we know as the Zero Tolerance Law. 


Violation of the Zero Tolerance Law is NOT a traffic violation, and it is NOT a criminal offense of any kind. And being detained under the Zero Tolerance Law is NOT an arrest. 


The purpose of the statute is to eliminate the risk of intoxicated drivers on the road. Since any alcohol possession at all is not lawful for people under 21, any alcohol at all in a driver younger than 21 can be the basis for the police to detain the driver and transport them to the police station to undergo a breathalyzer test. Only a reading of 0.02 or higher will result in a Zero Tolerance Law citation. 


If the breathalyzer reading shows less than 0.02 BAC, then no citation can be issued under the ZTL even if the test does show the presence of some alcohol. Why not cite a driver with a reading of 0.01? 


The breathalyzer machine commonly used by police to test drivers’ BAC is called an Intoxilyzer 8000. Despite the machine’s manufacturer’s confidence in the accuracy of the readings produced by the breathalyzer, there can be a margin of error. If the law penalized even drivers with a minuscule amount of alcohol in their system, there would be some doubt as to whether the machine was miscalibrated. By establishing the 0.02 standard as the threshold, the law ensures that a substantial amount of alcohol presence was measured.  


Learn More> Underage DUI in Florida Facts 


No Probable Cause of Intoxication is Required for Detention 


When the police make a DUI arrest in a case of someone 21 or older, they need to be able to produce evidence that they had reasonable suspicion of an offense to stop the driver, and probable cause to believe that the driver was driving or in physical control of a vehicle while either under the influence of alcohol or another chemical to the degree that their normal faculties were impaired, or that they had a BAC of .08 or higher.  


Not so with a driver under 21. To take a driver under age 21 into custody for suspicion of violating the Zero Tolerance Law, the police only need to have probable cause to believe that: 


  • the driver is under 21, and 
  • the driver has some level of alcohol in their blood 


The police also must have a reasonable basis for stopping the young driver, but no probable cause that the driver is impaired by the alcohol is required.  


Penalties for Violating the Zero Tolerance Law 


The police must provide a ZTL violation package to the administrative authorities that includes an affidavit of the officer’s reason for the stop, their probable cause to believe the driver was under 21 and had a prohibited amount of alcohol in their blood while in physical control of the vehicle. They also must include a copy of the breathalyzer results showing the value to be 0.20 or higher, evidence that the driver is under 21, and that proper procedures were followed.  


If the underage driver refuses to submit to a breathalyzer, the officer must include a sworn affidavit that they requested the driver take the breathalyzer test, notified the driver of the penalties for refusing and that the driver refused. 




  • First Offense BAC 0.02 to BAC 0.049 — 6-month license suspension 
  • Second Offense BAC 0.02 to BAC 0.49 — 12-month license suspension 
  • First Offense Refusal of Breathalyzer — 12-month license suspension 
  • Second Offense Refusal of Breathalyzer — 18-month license suspension 
  • First Offense BAC 0.05 to 0.079 — license suspension for at least 6 months and until completion of alcohol and substance use evaluation and counseling. 
  • If under 19, First Offense 0.50 requires parents to be notified of substance abuse evaluation result 


License Suspensions: 


The license suspensions associated with the ZTL citations take effect upon issuance by the officer. However, 12 hours after the issuance of the suspension notice, a temporary license is activated and will last until the 10th day following its issuance date. That permits drivers and their lawyers to file requests for an administrative hearing. 


However, without a lawyer experienced in representing young drivers facing ZTL citations and fighting the suspensions, most underage drivers have little chance of successfully invalidating the suspension. 

Under the Influence or BAC over .08 Means Adult DUI Charges for All 18 and Older 


It is important to remember that the lesser penalties imposed on under 21 drivers who have a BAC of 0.02 or more but less than 0.08 are designed to take the driver’s youth, inexperience, and impulsiveness into account. But, any driver over 18 who drives or has physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or another substance to the point that their normal faculties are impaired, or who has a BAC of .08 or more, will face the criminal charge of DUI with fines, potential incarceration, and 50 hours of community service. 


For any police-involved citation, violation, offense, or criminal charge, contact the experienced, board-certified ZTL and DUI defense lawyer near you in Tampa and St. Petersburg. Let professionals help to protect your rights and preserve your name and reputation. 


If you have been charged with a DUI, call Tampa’s experienced DUI criminal defense lawyers at Stechschulte Nell. We are ready to defend your case; 813-280-1244.  

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