Ask a trooper: Designated driver only in trouble for traffic violation
Question: I have a 19-year-old son, all-in-all a good kid. He doesn't like to drink but some of his adult but underage friends do. They ask him to be the designated driver, which he gladly does. I know underage drinking is flat out illegal, I don't condone it, he knows that. My question is, can he get in trouble for being DD, or can I get in trouble if he takes my car?
Answer: While I too am not condoning underage drinking, I will give credit to your son for being the DD and keeping things safe for everyone on the road.
According to statute 169.90 sb1, "Every person who commits or attempts to commit, conspires to commit, or aids or abets in the commission of, any act declared herein to be an offense, whether individually or in connection with one or more other persons or as principal, agent, or accessory, shall be guilty of such offense, and every person who falsely, fraudulently, forcibly, or willfully induces, causes, coerces, requires, permits, or directs another to violate any provision of this chapter, is likewise guilty of such offense."
From the information you provided, I assume that your son is not throwing the party and encouraging the underage drinking. Just that he is being the DD so that people have a greater chance of getting home safely.
Now subdivision 2 of the same statute states "It is unlawful for the owner, or any other person, employing or otherwise directing the driver of any vehicle to require or knowingly to permit the operation of such vehicle upon a highway in any manner contrary to law."
This basically means that if you allow someone to use your vehicle, knowing they are going to violate the law, then yes you can be found guilty of a crime. Example: You know your brother is intoxicated and yet you allow him to use your vehicle.
Now, I say that under the circumstances you mentioned, I do not believe you would be committing a violation. Why? Because while you are allowing your vehicle to be use by a DD, the fact still remains that it is not illegal to be an intoxicated passenger in Minnesota.
Being a designated driver is not illegal in Minnesota and is in fact accepted as a good way to help avoid alcohol related crashes. The only law I see here that is being violated is the "under 21 consuming alcohol" law, and so long as they are not consuming or transporting the alcohol in the vehicle I think you are OK here.
Now if an officer does stop them and detects alcohol use those under age 21 are subject to being charged with that consuming violation. Provided your son has not had any alcohol he should only have to worry about the traffic violation that got them involved in the traffic stop to begin with.
If you have any questions, send questions to Trooper Andy Schmidt, Minnesota State Patrol, 1000 Highway 10 West, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501-2205, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.