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DUI in Tennessee Explained

Tennessee law makes it a crime to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating substance. This may be alcohol or drugs, illegal or prescription.

Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 55-10-401 provides:

It is unlawful for any person to drive or to be in physical control of any automobile or other motor driven vehicle on any of the public roads and highways of the state, or on any streets or alleys, or while on the premises of any shopping center, trailer park or any apartment house complex, or any other premises that is generally frequented by the public at large, while:

(1) Under the influence of any intoxicant, marijuana, controlled substance, controlled substance analogue, drug, substance affecting the central nervous system or combination thereof that impairs the driver's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle by depriving the driver of the clearness of mind and control of oneself which the driver would otherwise possess; or

(2) The alcohol concentration in the person's blood or breath is eight-hundredths of one percent (0.08%) or more.

This law can be broken down into a number of elements that must be proven by the Government in order for a person to be convicted of DUI.

“To Drive or to Be In Physical Control"

It is, of course, unlawful to drive a vehicle on a public road while intoxicated. “…in physical control…" is subject to far more interpretation and debate. This has been interpreted to include sitting in a running vehicle and being inside a non-running vehicle with the keys in the ignition. If you are found in any manner to be in control of an operational vehicle, you may be charged. A “vehicle" includes any type of motorized conveyance.

Years ago, the scope of the law was broadened to include not only streets, highways, and other roadways, but also parking lots and apartment complex parking and roadways. It does not include private property and private driveways not open for public use.

If you are pulled over, be cooperative and courteous to the officer. Give them your license, insurance information, and registration. Talk as little as possible. You are not required to tell the officer where you have been, where you are going, and/or whether you have been drinking and how much you’ve had to drink. Answering the latter seldom does any more than provide the officer with confirmation of his suspicions and a reason to take further action. You don’t have to answer questions.

In general, provided that an officer has reason to believe that you have been drinking and driving, such as your admission, an odor of alcohol, or erratic behavior, they may ask you for either a blood test or a breath test, but not both. Whether or not you should consent to either test is discussed more fully in another article on this website, but if you are absolutely certain that you are sober, it may be wise to take the test. If you have little doubt that you are over the legal limit (drunk, buzzed, etc.) it may be better to refuse. If you refuse, you will likely lose your driving privileges in Tennessee for at least one (1) year, but if you blow or have a test result in excess of the limit, you will more likely be convicted of DUI and will lose your driving privileges for at least one (1) year anyway.

If you have questions regarding your rights and responsibilities and/or in regard to the consequences and punishments for DUI in Tennessee, please contact the office and schedule an appointment to discuss you particular situation.