Loopholes in Tennessee DUI laws may endanger innocent drivers

Tennessee's current laws on open alcohol containers in vehicles and sanctions for deadly DUI accidents may allow some offenders to escape punishment.

Tennessee has established strict laws to discourage people in Memphis from driving while intoxicated. According to The Tennessean, the state has some of the strongest sanctions in the nation for convicted first-time offenders. Unfortunately, recent reports suggest that some of the state’s other laws may not adequately protect motorists against DUI-related accidents. Instead, loopholes may allow certain convicted DUI offenders to go unpunished.

Offenders evading sanctions

The Tennessean reports that people who cause fatal alcohol-related accidents in Tennessee may face less jail time than first-time offenders. People convicted of causing fatal accidents may be sentenced to 8 to 12 years in prison, but they can seek full probation. Therefore, some offenders never serve at any time. One investigation found three cases in one county in which convicted offenders, including one with a past DUI conviction, served no jail time.

The same source reports that Tennessee is also one of a small number of states that allows passengers to consume alcohol. Drivers cannot drink alcohol or keep open containers in their vehicles, but these same actions are legal for passengers. Under these laws, drivers who are drinking can simply hand the alcohol off to passengers and potentially avoid punishment.

State lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would ban passengers from consuming or possessing open alcoholic beverages. The outlook for the legislation is uncertain since similar bills have failed to pass in recent years. Still, this change could be an important step in discouraging Tennessee motorists from any form of drunk driving.

Prevalence of drunk driving

The number of arrests, accidents, and fatalities involving drunk drivers in Tennessee is not trivial. According to WSMV News, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation found that DUI arrests increased from 2013 to 2014. In 2014, a significant 29,544 people were arrested for DUI in the state. Arrest data from the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility also indicates that DUI arrests increased steeply from 2012 to 2013.

Safety officials note that the rising number of arrests reflects new techniques used to detect and arrest drunk drivers. Authorities have been targeting offenders near bars and using software to model the location and time that accidents will occur. Still, these numbers also show that there are alarmingly high numbers of intoxicated drivers on the roadways. Accident data additionally reveals that innocent motorists in the state face a significant risk of alcohol-related accidents:

  • In 2012, the latest year for which the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility reports data, drivers under the influence of alcohol claimed 295 lives.
  • More recently, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security reported that 6,928 alcohol-related accidents occurred in 2013.
  • In 2014, accidents involving alcohol were on pace to reach a similar number. As of Sept. 23, 4,568 accidents had occurred.

Many of these figures represent improvements over the DUI accident rates reported five or more years ago. At the same time, these statistics show that drunk driving remains a persistent problem. Sadly, even if lawmakers address current legal loopholes, DUI accidents may still affect many innocent people in Tennessee.

Anyone who has been hurt in an accident involving a drunk driver should consider speaking to an attorney. An attorney may be able to provide advice on legal remedies or offer assistance during the claim process.