California DUI Laws & Penalties

Driving while intoxicated endangers your life and the life of the people around you, but it also comes with steep legal penalties. Ideally you will never drink and drive, but what happens if you are caught drunk behind the wheel?

California has three DUI charges for drivers under the age of 21 years old. The penalties for repeat offenders increase in severity; however, these penalties and fees are more liable to change depending on various circumstances. The penalties for first-time offenders are as follows:

 BACLicense PenaltiesFeesTraffic PointsJail Time
Zero Tolerance DUI.01%–.04%1 year suspensionUp to $250NoneNone
Underage DUI.05%–.07%1 year suspension$100–$3002None
Standard DUI.08% or higher3–10 month suspensionUp to $1,0002Up to 6 months

California's Zero Tolerance Policy

California has a zero tolerance drunk driving policy for underage drivers. This means any teen found with more than a .01% BAC or higher is subject to a one-year driver's license suspension. Refusing to take the preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) or breathalyzer test or failing to pass either also results in a year-long suspension.

You can also be fined up to $250 and charged with a criminal offense or an infraction.

Underage DUI

If you receive a DUI infraction and are under 21 years old, the penalties are similar to a Zero Tolerance DUI. Your license will be suspended for a year for failing a PAS, refusing to take a PAS, or having a BAC of .05% or higher. You can be charged up to $300, depending on your age and prior traffic infractions. If you are between 18–21 years old, you must enroll in an alcohol driver education course, which is an additional fee. You will also receive two points on your driver's license.

Standard DUI

If you have a BAC of .08% or higher, you can be charged with a standard DUI regardless of your age. With this charge, you face up to six months in prison, as it counts as a misdemeanor instead of an infraction. You could face up to $1,000 in fees and a 3–10 month license suspension. You will also receive two points on your driving record. Additionally, you will have to attend a DUI program and may have to install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID), both of which are additional fees.

Stacking Penalties

If you drive with a BAC of .08% or more, you could potentially be convicted for all three of the above charges. The good news is that even if you are convicted of all three, it will only count as a single DUI charge. The bad news: the penalties and fees stack. You could end up getting your license suspended for close to three years, be charged nearly $2,000 and accumulate 4-points on your record, which already qualifies you for additional fees and license suspensions from the state.

Additional Fees

If a police officer takes your license once you are suspected of driving under the influence and you are later found guilty, there is a $125 fee to reinstate your license. There are also court fees, class fees, penalties and so on. The state will aim to charge you as much as it can for this offense.

Requesting a Hearing

Even as a minor you have the right to obtain a Stay and a Hearing from the DMV. However, you only have ten days from the day you were charged to do this. Otherwise, you license will suffer an automatic 30-day suspension, even if you are innocent of all charges.

Upon being charged with DUI, your license will be revoked and you will be given a piece of pink paper to serve as a 30-day temporary license. A Stay will extend those 30 days for you. A Hearing, on the other hand, gives you the chance to avoid getting your license suspended at all.

Possession of Alcohol

You should be aware that driving with alcohol in the car as a minor is illegal. Violating this law can result in:

  • Up to $1,000 in fines
  • One year license suspension
  • Thirty-day vehicle impoundment

You may only drive with alcohol in the car if you are driving with a parent or legal guardian or if you work for a person who has an off-premise liquor license.

Related Alcohol Crimes

Should you attempt to purchase alcohol as a minor, you face up to $100 ($250 if you manage to buy any) in fines and community service time.

Should you possess a fake ID, that comes with a fine of at least $250 and up to 32 hours of community service.

Effects of a DUI

In addition to costing you money, DUIs can affect your career. If you receive a DUI, you will have to disclose this information to potential colleges and employers who request criminal records in the future. It is perfectly legal for an employee to reject your application or for a university to refuse you admittance due to having a DUI.

The penalties listed above are steep — and you should remember these are just the minimum penalties. If you get into a car accident, injuring or even killing someone, the penalties are much harsher. In the end, drinking and driving is not worth this price. It is a dumb choice as an adult, and as a minor it is always an illegal one.