California Drunk Driving Laws

When is a Driver Considered to be Legally Drunk in California?

  • Non-commercial drivers age 21+ are considered legally drunk when their blood alcohol level is .08 or more.
  • Drivers of commercial vehicles are legally drunk when their blood alcohol level is .04 percent or greater. In California, school bus drivers are commercial drivers.
  • Drivers under 21 are legally drunk when their blood alcohol level is .01 or more.

Penalties for Drunk Driving in California

  • A person who is convicted of a first DUI faces imprisonment in a county jail for 96 hours to six months and is subject to pay a fine of $390 to $1,000. The driver’s license suspension period is six months.
  • A person who is convicted of a second DUI within 10 years of the first conviction faces imprisonment in a county jail for 90 days to one year and is subject to pay a fine of $390 to $1,000. The driver’s license suspension period is two years.
  • A person who is convicted of a third DUI within a 10-year period faces imprisonment in a county jail for 120 days to one year and is subject to pay a fine of $390 to $1,000. The driver’s license revocation period is three years.
  • A person who is convicted of a fourth or subsequent DUI within a 10-year period faces imprisonment in a state prison or in a county jail for 180 days to one year and is subject to pay a fine of $390 to $1,000. The driver’s license revocation period is four years.

Enhanced Penalties for Drunk Driving that Causes Serious Bodily Injury or Death

  • A person who is convicted of a first DUI that causes serious bodily injury to another faces imprisonment in a state prison or county jail for 90 days to one year and is subject to pay a fine of $390 to $1,000. The driver’s license suspension period is one year.
  • A person who commits a DUI that causes bodily injury or death to more than one victim will receive an enhancement of one year in a state prison for each additional injured victim. The maximum number of one-year enhancements that may be imposed is three.
  • A person who is convicted of a second DUI that causes great bodily injury to another person within 10 years of the first conviction faces imprisonment in a state prison or county jail for 120 days to one year and is subject to pay a fine of $390 to $5,000. “Great bodily injury” means significant or substantial physical injury. The driver’s license revocation period is three years.
  • A person who is convicted of a third DUI that causes great bodily injury to another person within 10 years of the previous convictions faces imprisonment in a state prison for two to four years and is subject to pay a fine of $1,015 to $5,000. The driver’s license revocation period is five years.

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Enhanced Penalty for Drunk Driving While a Minor Under 14 was in the Vehicle

A person who is convicted of DUI while a minor under 14 was in the vehicle will receive enhanced punishment. For a first offense, the term of imprisonment is enhanced by 48 hours in a county jail. For a second offense, the term of imprisonment is enhanced by 10 days in a county jail. For a third offense, the term of imprisonment is enhanced by 30 days in a county jail. If, however, the violation resulted in bodily injury to another person, the punishment is enhanced by 90 days in a county jail.

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Ignition Interlock

A judge may require a person who is convicted of a first DUI to install an ignition interlock device in any vehicle that the offender owns or operates. The judge must give heightened consideration to applying this punishment to a first-time violator whose BAC measured .20 or more. If the judge orders the restriction, the term will be determined by the judge, but cannot exceed three years.

A person who is convicted of a second or subsequent DUI within a 10-year period may apply for a restricted driver’s license that prohibits the offender from operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is equipped with an ignition interlock device. In many cases, second-time and subsequent offenders may apply for this restricted license after completing 12 months of their suspension or revocation periods. If the application is granted, the restriction will remain in effect for at least the remaining period of the original suspension or revocation period.

Commercial Drivers

In addition to other penalties that may be imposed under California’s DUI laws, a commercial driver who commits a first DUI while driving any vehicle will be disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle for one year. If, however, the offense was committed while the driver was operating a commercial vehicle and transporting hazardous materials, the disqualification period is three years. If a commercial driver is convicted of a second DUI while driving any vehicle, the offender will be disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle for life, which may or may not be reduced to a period of 10 years.

Drivers Under 21

Under California’s “Zero Tolerance Law,” it is unlawful for a person under 21 to drive with a BAC of .01 or greater. Although nothing prohibits an underage DUI offender from being prosecuted under the DUI laws applied to adults, first-time offenders who are at least 18 will have their driving privileges suspended and be ordered to complete an alcohol education program. The offender’s driver’s license may be reinstated after he or she submits proof of successfully completing the program

Need more information on state laws? Learn more about the laws where you live.

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Cause of Action for Supplying Alcohol to an Intoxicated Minor

In California, a cause of action may be brought against a licensed drinking establishment by, or on behalf of, a person who was injured by an intoxicated minor only when the establishment sold or served alcohol to the minor while he or she was obviously intoxicated and such sale or service of alcohol was the proximate cause of the person’s injury.

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Criminal Penalties for Selling or Furnishing Alcohol to a Person Under 21

In California, it is a crime to sell or furnish alcohol to a person under 21. Any person who violates this law will be punished by a fine of $1,000 and be required to perform not less than 24 hours of community service work. If, however, the minor caused great bodily injury or death to himself or to another person, the offender will be imprisoned in a county jail for six months to one year and will also be subject to pay a fine of up to $1,000.

Need more information on state laws? Learn more about the laws where you live.

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Note: Our attorneys are licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia. This information is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia, although if you are injured in an accident, we have relationships with other personal injury attorneys and lawyers throughout the United States.

Please note: All of our lawyers are licensed to practice in the state of Pennsylvania. We also have lawyers licensed to practice in Ohio, and West Virginia and we associate with experienced attorneys in other states.

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