DUI Laws in Tennessee

This article provides a comprehensive overview of DUI laws in Tennessee, detailing the legal framework, penalties, and procedures involved.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is a serious offense in Tennessee, carrying significant legal consequences. This article provides a comprehensive overview of DUI laws in Tennessee, detailing the legal framework, penalties, and procedures involved. It aims to offer a detailed understanding of the subject, based on legitimate sources such as government websites and official legal documents.


Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a criminal offense in Tennessee. The state has stringent laws to deter and penalize impaired driving, aiming to enhance public safety. This article explores the various aspects of DUI laws in Tennessee, including definitions, legal limits, penalties, and the legal process.

Definition of DUI

In Tennessee, DUI is defined as operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both. The impairment must affect the driver's ability to operate the vehicle safely.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits

The legal BAC limits in Tennessee are as follows:

  • 0.08% for drivers aged 21 and over.
  • 0.04% for commercial drivers.
  • 0.02% for drivers under the age of 21.

These limits are established under Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) § 55-10-401.

Tennessee's implied consent law, codified in TCA § 55-10-406, mandates that drivers implicitly agree to submit to chemical tests (breath, blood, or urine) to determine BAC or drug content when lawfully arrested for DUI. Refusal to submit to these tests can result in penalties, including license suspension.

DUI Offenses and Penalties

First Offense

For a first-time DUI offense, the penalties include:

  • Jail Time: Minimum of 48 hours, up to 11 months and 29 days.
  • Fines: Ranging from $350 to $1,500.
  • License Suspension: One year.
  • Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program: Mandatory participation.
  • Ignition Interlock Device (IID): Possible requirement.

Second Offense

A second DUI offense within ten years carries harsher penalties:

  • Jail Time: Minimum of 45 days, up to 11 months and 29 days.
  • Fines: Ranging from $600 to $3,500.
  • License Suspension: Two years.
  • IID: Mandatory installation.
  • Vehicle Forfeiture: Possible seizure of the vehicle.

Third Offense

For a third DUI offense, the penalties are even more severe:

  • Jail Time: Minimum of 120 days, up to 11 months and 29 days.
  • Fines: Ranging from $1,100 to $10,000.
  • License Suspension: Six to ten years.
  • IID: Mandatory installation.
  • Vehicle Forfeiture: Possible seizure of the vehicle.

Fourth and Subsequent Offenses

A fourth or subsequent DUI offense is classified as a Class E felony:

  • Jail Time: Minimum of 150 days, up to six years.
  • Fines: Ranging from $3,000 to $15,000.
  • License Suspension: Eight years.
  • IID: Mandatory installation.
  • Vehicle Forfeiture: Possible seizure of the vehicle.

Aggravated DUI

Aggravated DUI involves additional factors that increase the severity of the offense, such as:

  • Child Endangerment: DUI with a child under 18 in the vehicle.
  • High BAC: BAC of 0.20% or higher.
  • Injury or Death: Causing serious injury or death while driving under the influence.

Penalties for aggravated DUI are more severe and can include longer jail sentences, higher fines, and extended license suspensions.

Arrest and Booking

When a driver is suspected of DUI, law enforcement officers will conduct field sobriety tests and chemical tests. If the driver fails these tests, they will be arrested and taken to a police station for booking.


At the arraignment, the defendant is formally charged with DUI and enters a plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest). The judge may set bail and schedule future court dates.

Pre-Trial Motions

Pre-trial motions may include requests to suppress evidence, dismiss charges, or compel discovery. These motions are crucial in shaping the defense strategy.


If the case goes to trial, both the prosecution and defense present evidence and arguments. The judge or jury will determine the defendant's guilt or innocence.


If the defendant is found guilty, the judge will impose a sentence based on the severity of the offense and any aggravating or mitigating factors.

Defenses to DUI Charges

Challenging the Traffic Stop

One common defense is to challenge the legality of the traffic stop. If the stop was not based on reasonable suspicion, any evidence obtained may be inadmissible.

Questioning the Accuracy of Tests

Defendants may challenge the accuracy of field sobriety tests, breathalyzer tests, or blood tests. Factors such as improper calibration, administration errors, or medical conditions can affect test results.

Rising BAC Defense

The rising BAC defense argues that the defendant's BAC was below the legal limit while driving but increased by the time the test was administered.

Necessity Defense

In rare cases, a necessity defense may be used, arguing that the defendant had no choice but to drive under the influence due to an emergency situation.

DUI and Commercial Drivers

BAC Limits for Commercial Drivers

Commercial drivers in Tennessee are subject to stricter BAC limits. A BAC of 0.04% or higher is considered a DUI for commercial drivers.

Penalties for Commercial Drivers

Penalties for commercial drivers convicted of DUI include:

  • Disqualification: One-year disqualification from operating a commercial vehicle for a first offense.
  • Permanent Disqualification: Lifetime disqualification for a second offense.

Impact on Employment

A DUI conviction can severely impact a commercial driver's employment, as many employers have zero-tolerance policies for DUI offenses.

DUI and Underage Drivers

Zero Tolerance Law

Tennessee's zero tolerance law prohibits drivers under 21 from operating a vehicle with a BAC of 0.02% or higher.

Penalties for Underage DUI

Penalties for underage DUI include:

  • License Suspension: One year.
  • Fines: Up to $250.
  • Community Service: Mandatory community service.

Impact on Future Opportunities

An underage DUI conviction can have long-term consequences, affecting college admissions, scholarships, and employment opportunities.

DUI and Prescription Drugs

Driving under the influence of prescription drugs is treated similarly to alcohol-related DUI offenses. If the drugs impair the driver's ability to operate the vehicle safely, they can be charged with DUI.


Defenses for prescription drug-related DUI may include:

  • Valid Prescription: Having a valid prescription for the medication.
  • Lack of Impairment: Arguing that the medication did not impair the driver's ability to operate the vehicle safely.

DUI and Marijuana

As of the current legal framework, marijuana is illegal for recreational use in Tennessee. Medical marijuana is also highly restricted.

DUI and Marijuana

Driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal and carries similar penalties to alcohol-related DUI offenses. Law enforcement may use field sobriety tests and chemical tests to determine impairment.

Administrative Penalties

License Suspension

In addition to criminal penalties, DUI offenders face administrative penalties, including license suspension. The length of the suspension depends on the number of prior offenses and the specifics of the case.

Ignition Interlock Device (IID)

An IID is a breathalyzer device installed in a vehicle that prevents it from starting if the driver's BAC is above a certain limit. Tennessee law requires IID installation for certain DUI offenders.

Alcohol and Drug Treatment Programs

Many DUI offenders are required to participate in alcohol and drug treatment programs as part of their sentence. These programs aim to address the underlying issues contributing to impaired driving.

DUI and Insurance

Impact on Insurance Rates

A DUI conviction can significantly increase insurance rates. Insurance companies view DUI offenders as high-risk drivers, leading to higher premiums.

SR-22 Insurance

DUI offenders may be required to obtain SR-22 insurance, a certificate of financial responsibility that proves they have the minimum required insurance coverage. SR-22 insurance is typically more expensive than standard insurance.

DUI and Employment

Background Checks

Many employers conduct background checks as part of the hiring process. A DUI conviction can appear on a background check and may impact employment opportunities.

Professional Licenses

Certain professions, such as healthcare, law, and commercial driving, require professional licenses. A DUI conviction can result in disciplinary action or revocation of these licenses.

DUI and Immigration

Impact on Immigration Status

A DUI conviction can have serious consequences for non-citizens, including deportation, denial of entry, or denial of naturalization. The specific impact depends on the individual's immigration status and the severity of the offense.


Understanding DUI laws in Tennessee is crucial for drivers to avoid severe legal consequences. The state has stringent laws and penalties to deter impaired driving and enhance public safety. By adhering to these laws and making informed decisions, drivers can contribute to a safer road environment.

For more information on DUI laws in Tennessee, visit the official Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security website and the Tennessee General Assembly website.

This article provides a detailed overview of DUI laws in Tennessee, based on legitimate sources and official legal documents. It aims to improve access to justice by offering clear and comprehensive information on the subject.

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