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Underage Drinkers Can Lose Driving Privileges, Illinois Court Rules

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Illinois residents under age 21 who are caught drinking alcohol can lose their driver’s licenses even if they weren’t drinking and driving, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled.

The Belleville News-Democrat reported June 25 that the high court dismissed the arguments of a pair of 20-year-olds, who contended that the law allowing the courts to suspend or revoke their driver’s licenses because of an underage-drinking offense violated their right to due process and equal protection under the law.

The Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling that the law was unconstitutional, ruling in essence that the law was not fundamentally a punishment but rather intended to “provide for safe highways.”

“Here, the General Assembly may have believed that a young person who has a driver's license and consumes alcohol illegally may take the additional step of driving after consuming alcohol,” according to the court. “It is reasonable to believe a young person disobeying the law against underage consumption of alcohol may also lack the judgment to decline to drive after drinking. Preventing young people from driving after consuming alcohol unquestionably furthers the public interest in the safe and legal operation of motor vehicles.” 

The 2008 law calls for a six-month license suspension for minors convicted of unlawful possession or consumption of alcohol. Longer suspensions or even revocation can be ordered for repeat offenders. Since the law took effect, more than 12,000 minors have had their driving privileges suspended or revoked.

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