DUI Law May Cost Tennessee Highway Funding

Posted at 10:22 PM, Aug 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-24 23:34:34-04

A new state law designed to crackdown on underage DUI offenders, may end up costing Tennessee millions of dollars.

The law, which went into effect July 1, increased the allowable blood alcohol content for underage drivers from .02 to .08, and it also increased the penalties.  Federal law requires states to have blood alcohol limits of .02 for drivers under 21.

Since the new law isn’t in compliance with federal guidelines, the state could lose $60 million in federal highway funding.

Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, who sponsored the bill, said the intent was to toughen the penalties for young drivers who get DUIs.

“We wanted a youthful offender, if they were an adult, to be treated the same as an older adult would be treated,” said Rep. Lamberth.  “The punishment should be the same.”

Rep. Lamberth said he was surprised to learn the bill did not comply with federal guidelines.  He said while the bill was being finalized, no state or federal officials indicated there may be a problem.

“I don’t know why this wasn’t caught,” said Rep. Lamberth. “Had we known about this five or six months ago, we wouldn’t have passed the bill.”

Now officials from TDOT are scrambling to plead their case with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“We believe there are other existing statutes that keep us in compliance with the zero tolerance law,” said B.J. Doughty, spokesperson for TDOT.

Doughty said the federal money would be used on highway projects across the state.

Jennifer Donnals, Spokesperson for Governor Bill Haslam released a statement: “The state is pursuing every alternative with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to find a work around with the assurance to fix this unintended situation in the 2017 legislative session.”

TDOT officials hope to have some answers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by the end of the week.

Tennessee has until October 1 to become compliant with federal law, or the $60 million will be lost.