Frequently Asked Questions About DUI In Tennessee

Q. What are the penalties?

A. The complete list of penalties for DUI offenses appears on the Tennessee Department of Safety website. Penalties for a DUI conviction include incarceration, loss of driver's license, fines, required participation in DUI school and drug and alcohol treatment, payment of restitution for injury or personal loss and installation of an ignition interlock device. If you refuse to submit to a blood or breath test, your driver's license will automatically be suspended for one year.


Q. How much will it cost?

A. With towing, bail, attorney, high risk insurance, court costs, school and reinstatement fees, your first offense average costs could add up to $4,900.


Q. Can I get off?

A. Each case is different. Depending on the specific facts of your case, there may be opportunities to petition for a dismissal of the case based, for example, on lack of probable cause for making the traffic stop. An experienced DUI defense attorney can advise you of your options.


Q. Can I get restricted license?

A. In some cases, people convicted of a first-offense DUI may be able to obtain a restricted license that will allow them to drive to and from school, work or a court-ordered alcohol DUI education program. This option is not immediately available to those who have previous DUI convictions or convictions for certain related offenses.

If you have been convicted of a second-offense DUI, you must serve at least one year of the license revocation period before petitioning the court for a restricted license.


Q. Can you give me a restricted license?

A. No, but our DUI defense lawyer, Rob McKinney, can help eligible people through the steps in the legal process required to obtain a restricted license. This involves obtaining a certified order from the court where you were convicted. You must also obtain SR-22 insurance, pass a driver's license exam and pay a fee.


Q. What is the ignition interlock device program?

A. Those convicted of a DUI in Tennessee may be ordered to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicles to obtain a restricted driver's license or to have their driving privileges restored. These devices require the driver to submit a breath test for analysis in order to start the vehicle and at other times during its operation. If alcohol is detected, the vehicle will not start. The offender is responsible for the cost of installing the device and having it serviced and inspected regularly.


Q. What is an alcohol ignition interlock device?

A. Tennessee made the installation of an ignition interlock device mandatory with all those convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) with a blood alcohol concentration of at least .15 percent or more.

What is an ignition interlock device?

  • An alcohol ignition interlock device is a small device about the size of cellphone that is installed into the starting circuit of a vehicle.
  • A driver must blow into the device and the vehicle will not start if the driver has measurable alcohol in their system. Currently, the level is .02 percent blood alcohol concentration.
  • If the driver does not have alcohol about the measurable level in their system, the vehicle will start normally.
  • Interlocks will be set for 'running retests,' which require a driver to provide breath tests at regular intervals, preventing drivers from asking a sober friend to start the car.
  • If a driver fails a running retest, in some states, the vehicle's horn will honk and/or the lights will flash to alert law enforcement; the vehicle will not stop. The interlock does not have the ability to stop the vehicle once it is running for safety reasons.
  • One advantage to installing the ignition interlock device after a Tennessee DUI conviction is there are currently no geographical or time restrictions on the use of your automobile.

Q. What is a felony driving under the influence (DUI)?

A. Under Tennessee Criminal DUI law, the fourth or subsequent conviction shall be a Class E felony. It is punishable by a fine of no less than $3,000 and no more than $15, 000, by confinement not less than 150 consecutive days to be served day for day nor more than the maximum punishment authorized for the appropriate range of a Class E felony. The appropriate range for a Class E felony is one to six years in jail. The court shall prohibit the person from driving a motor vehicle for a period of five years. Tennessee added a new look-back calculation period effective July 1, 2010. The look-back calculation period refers to the 10- to 20-year time period that must be reviewed to determine if a person should be classified as a multiple offender. The law prior to July 1, 2010, provided the 10-year period be measured from the date immediately preceding the conviction to the date of the conviction of the current case. The new law provides that the time period be measured from the date immediately preceding when the offense was committed to the date of the current violation — in other words, from arrest date to arrest date. You can find this look-back period from T.C.A. § 55-10-403(a)(3). Remember the DUI laws in the state of Tennessee are forever changing.


Q. What is the legal limit?

A. Under Tennessee Law, the adult legal limit in drunk driving cases is .08 percent. For someone under age 18, the legal limit is .02 percent under current Tennessee law. For persons of any age driving a commercial vehicle such as a tractor-trailer, or any other commercial vehicle, the legal limit is .04 percent.


Q. Why do the police wait 20 minutes before they give you the breath alcohol test?

A. Under Tennessee Law, a police officer must watch you for 20 minutes before the breath alcohol test is admissible. The reason is that a burp, belch or hiccup could contaminate the breath test. A belch, burp or the hiccups could bring alcohol from the stomach to the mouth cavity which would affect the breath test results.

If the police officer is not watching you for the 20 minutes prior to the breath alcohol test, the result may not be admitted into evidence. If the officer administering the breath test is using a cellphone, typing on the computer or talking to another police officer during the 20-minute observation period, it may give you a great defense in your DUI case.


To learn more about the legal aspects of drunk driving, please visit our Drunk Driving/DUI Practice Page.

To arrange a free initial consultation with Rob McKinney, Attorney at Law, in Nashville, Tennessee, please contact us online or call 615-686-2115.