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California DUI Laws

Drunk driving and driving under the influence of drugs are major problems in the U.S. DUIs make up one in 10 arrests nationwide. In 2021, 32% of fatal motor vehicle accidents in California involved a driver under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. In response, California has serious penalties for driving under the influence (DUI).

Understanding the law will help you avoid committing a DUI and also help you plan your next steps if arrested for the offense.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits and Implied Consent

"Per Se" BAC Limit 0.08%
Zero Tolerance (Underage) BAC Limit 0.01%
Enhanced Penalty (Aggravated) BAC Limit 0.15%
Implied Consent to Submit to BAC Test? Yes

Select Penalties

Minimum License Suspension or Revocation (1st, 2nd, 3rd offense) 6 months, 2 years, 3 years
Mandatory Alcohol Education, Assessment and Treatment Both
Vehicle Confiscation Possible? Yes
Ignition Interlock Device Possible? Yes (mandatory after second offence)

Note: State laws are always changing through legislative, judicial, or other means. While FindLaw works hard to ensure the accuracy of its legal resources, it's a good idea to thoroughly research the law or check with an attorney to ensure you have the most recent information.

Driving Under the Influence

California law prohibits anyone from driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. There is no distinction between a legal substance and an illegal one. Any substance that impairs your abilities can lead to a DUI charge.

California defines "vehicle" broadly to include bicycles, scooters, or watercraft. You have to be in a position to operate the vehicle. If you happen to be sleeping in the back seat or don't have keys to the car, you may avoid a DUI arrest.

California drivers are also prohibited from operating a vehicle if they are addicted to any drug. This law recognizes that a person experiencing withdrawal symptoms would not be safe to drive. If you take part in a substance abuse treatment program, law enforcement can give you leeway.

Per Se Intoxication

All states now have, per se intoxication laws. This means law enforcement doesn't need additional proof of your impairment to arrest you if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is at or above the state's legal limit. In California, this level is 0.08%. For commercial drivers, the legal limit is 0.04% BAC.

If your BAC is between 0.05% and 0.07% and you show other signs of impairment, law enforcement can still arrest you for DUI. The officer needs to provide additional proof of your impairment.

If you are under 21, California has a zero-tolerance law for impaired driving. A BAC of 0.01% will get you arrested on a DUI charge. Penalties are more serious if your BAC is 0.05%. If your BAC is 0.08%, you face adult penalties, though you will not be eligible for jail time.

Implied Consent

If a police officer suspects you are driving under the influence, they will ask you to perform field sobriety tests and chemical tests. These help to gauge your intoxication. Law enforcement may ask you to take a Breathalyzer or breath test that detects your BAC. They may also have you submit to a blood test or urine analysis.

When you get your driver's license, you have given your implied consent to submit to chemical tests. You can refuse these tests, but there are immediate consequences. For a first-time refusal, you receive a driver's license suspension of one year. A second refusal within 10 years will suspend your driving privileges for two years. This suspension is regardless of a DUI charge or conviction. The court can add additional license suspension time to your sentence.

Law enforcement may still arrest you if you refuse chemical tests. Evidence of your refusal can be used against you in court.

Aggravating Factors

Certain factors can make your DUI charge more serious in the eyes of the law. These include:

  • A BAC of 0.15% or higher
  • Transporting a child 14 or younger
  • Causing an accident or injury
  • Being under 21
  • Refusing chemical tests

The presence of these factors will increase the penalties you face when convicted. You may serve more time in jail, face longer license suspension, or have additional charges added against you.

Criminal Penalties

DUI penalties are both administrative and criminal. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) handles the administrative part. The criminal court system takes the criminal part.

Most DUI offenders face a misdemeanor charge. A first offense is punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and other assessments. The court will impose at least a six-month license suspension. You must complete a three-month substance abuse education program. You can receive between 96 hours to six months of jail time. First-time offenders may receive DUI probation for three to five years instead of serving time in jail.

A second DUI within 10 years can get you a jail sentence from 90 days to 12 months, with fines up to $1,000. You will need to complete nine months of substance abuse education and treatment. The court may order additional license suspension time.

If you commit a third DUI offense within 10 years, you may serve a minimum of 120 days up to one year in state prison. The court may give you a fine of up to $1,000 and complete a 30-month alcohol treatment program. Your record will list you as a habitual offender for three years. Habitual offender status can increase penalties for further traffic infractions.

You face a felony DUI if you commit a fourth offense or more within 10 years or if you cause bodily harm to another person.

Administrative Penalties

When arrested for a DUI, the police officer takes your driver's license and issues you a notice of suspension or revocation. This process is the administrative license suspension program or administrative per se. It is separate from a license suspension or revocation that the criminal justice system may order. You must serve your administrative license suspension even if the court does not convict you.

You can request a DMV hearing to challenge your suspension within 10 days. You have 30 days from issuing the notice of suspension or revocation before your suspension period goes into effect. If this is your first offense and you are over 21 or hold a commercial driver's license, your license suspension is for four months. A second offense within 10 years or if you refuse to take chemical tests, your suspension is for one year. If you are under 21, your license is also suspended for one year.

After you have served your required suspension, you will have to reapply for a new driver's license.

You can apply for a restricted license allowing you to drive to work or school and other necessary appointments. Restricted licenses are only available if this is your first offense, you cooperated with chemical tests, and you are over 21.

Ignition Interlock Device

California has recently begun an ignition interlock device program. An ignition interlock device (IID) is installed into your vehicle's ignition system. The IID works as a breath test. You have to breathe into the IID to start your car. If it detects alcohol in your system, it will not allow your vehicle to start.

A first-time DUI offender may apply for an IID with the DMV. Installing an IID will give you more driving freedom than a restricted license. You must maintain the IID for at least six months. You cannot have IID installed if your offense involved drugs only.

The court system will order an IID installed if you have two or more DUIs within 10 years. You will need to keep the device for one to three years. It is a criminal offense to tamper with the IID.

California DUI Resources

Get Professional Legal Help: Contact a California DUI Attorney

A DUI conviction carries heavy and long-reaching consequences. It's important to understand California's DUI laws and penalties. A skilled attorney specializing in defending DUI cases can help you through the process and may be able to negotiate a plea bargain. Get peace of mind today and contact an experienced California DUI defense attorney near you.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex DUI situations usually require a lawyer
  • DUI defense attorneys can challenge Breathalyzer/Intoxilyzer or blood test results
  • A lawyer can seek to reduce or eliminate DUI penalties
  • A lawyer can help get your license back

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