Illinois law follows students

  • Residents of Illinois below the age of 21 run a serious risk of getting their license suspended if convicted of underage drinking
  • The law, which went into effect January 1, 2008, states that if convicted of underage drinking, the person will have their license suspended for 6 months
  • Even if someone from Illinois gets an underage drinking ticket in Wisconsin, they still stand to get their license suspended

Underage drinking penalties for Illinois residents have become more severe than many people realize.

One underage drinking citation by an Illinois resident while in any state will not just lead to a fine, but can also lead to a six- month suspension of their driver's license.

According to Brenda Glahn, attorney of the Driver Services Department for the Illinois secretary of state, as of Jan. 1, 2008, the penalty for one underage drinking conviction by an underage Illinois resident is six months, which is equivalent to receiving a DUI for someone who is of age.

"It used to be if you were convicted of underage drinking you lost your drivers license for a period of one year and that was changed," Glahn said.

Glahn did not say whether she felt the law was appropriate, only that it is what they have been instructed to enforce.

"We are following what the legislature has instructed us to do, which is to suspend the driver's license of these minors that are caught drinking," she said. "We are just perpetuating our statutory obligations."

According to Illinois attorney and Marquette alumnus Matt Morris, people seem to be very ill-informed about this law, as he frequently gets calls from parents or younger people stating their surprise about the letter they just received from the Illinois secretary of state.

"The way the law works is that if there is a law in the books, we are all presumed to know it. If our legislator enacts some goofy law and we know nothing about it, we are still charged with knowing that law," Morris said.

Another thing that often catches people off guard is that this Illinois law affects Illinois residents no matter where they are convicted.

"States are getting better and better at communicating with each other," he said. "There may be no sanctions in Wisconsin but suddenly Wisconsin sends that to Illinois and then Illinois suspends their license."

Morris believes the punishment should fit the crime. He said since a car is not even an instrument in the crime, there are other ways that someone can be punished for underage drinking.

"I think there should be some factual relation between the offense and the circumstances of the charge and the ability of the secretary of state to suspend their license," he said. "If it has nothing to do with the use of a vehicle, it is overly punitive and I think there are many other ways to send the message for underagers not to drink."

Kevin O'Brien, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, said he has seen firsthand how this law has only affected some, not all, of the people that it should.

"I know so many people from Illinois who have gotten underage drinking tickets," O'Brien said. "I have only seen one person get their license suspended. I just do not get how that is fair when they enforce it on some kids but not others."

O'Brien also said that he simply does not see the relevance.

"I understand that Illinois is trying to scare kids away from drinking illegally," he said. "But taking away a kid's license is irrelevant and in a lot of cases kids have to quit their jobs because they need their car."