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Legal Alcohol Limit: What is the BAC Limit for Drivers in California?

Did you know the legal alcohol limit in California is 0.08%? And that only applies to adults behind the wheels of non-commercial vehicles. This limit isn’t always applicable, so here is everything you should know about the alcohol limit in California!

What Is the BAC Test?

BAC is short for blood alcohol concentration. That means the BAC test serves to measure the level of alcohol in your blood. The result will always be in percentage, and it shows the grams of alcohol per 100 millimeters of blood. The scale starts at zero and increases the more alcohol you consume. According to the local laws, the legal BAC level of adult Californian drivers should be lower than 0.08%. 

bac of california

How Is BAC Calculated?

In California, there are multiple acceptable ways to check the amount of alcohol in your blood. The most common one is a breath test since it’s the fastest and easiest for everyone involved. However, a blood alcohol test is also an option to check the alcohol limit.

Here is more info about different methods of checking BAC in California!

  • DUI Breath Tests

If you get stopped by a policeman, they might ask you to do a DUI breath test. The local drunk driving laws consider this a legal way to check your BAC. The breath test only lasts a few seconds, and it’s minimally invasive. Since the results are available immediately, you’ll discover your BAC right away.

It’s interesting that breath tests don’t measure the amount of alcohol in your blood. Rather than that, they check the amount in your lungs, which is close to the blood supply. The machine takes the result and converts it to a blood alcohol percentage. According to the local DUI law, the partition ratio is 2,100:1.

There are two breath tests done in California:

    1. PAS test. This is a preliminary alcohol screening, and it occurs when a traffic stop occurs. The driver has the right to decline it if they are 21 or over and they don’t have any prior offenses or aren’t on probation.
    2. Post-arrest breath test. If the police arrest you for DIY, you’ll do a breath test in the local police station. If you reject, you immediately lose your driver’s license for at least 12 months.
  • DUI Blood Tests

These should be most accurate from all tests available to determine the blood alcohol level California laws require in some situations. A licensed state employee needs to conduct this test. They send the sample for analysis, which can last for weeks. If you choose a blood test, you can ask for a sample to test independently.

  • Can BAC Be Measured by a Urine Test?

A urine test isn’t that reliable for determining the alcohol level in your body. That’s why it’s only an option when breath and blood tests aren’t available, or the person isn’t capable of taking them. For example, a clotting or breathing disorder might stop you from doing a specific test.

legal alcohol limit

What Is the Legal Alcohol Limit in California?

The default regulation implies that drivers can’t exceed the 08 BAC level in California. However, that limit depends on many factors. It could be different for drivers of commercial vehicles, underage drivers, and those on probation.

Here are more details about the existing regulation!

  • Vehicle Code 23152(b)

The crucial regulation that refers to driving under the influence is Vehicle Code 23152. It states that your blood alcohol concentration has to be lower than 0.08%. If your test shows 0.08% or a higher BAC level, the local law is quite strict with its sentences.

For your first DUI charge, you could face the following penalties:

    • A fine from $390 to $1K
    • Jail time from 96 hours to six months
    • Suspended license for six months

If the court adds probation, you could face a shorter license suspension but also an order to attend an alcohol treatment program.

The sentences get harsher with the second and following offenses. You could face a four-year license revocation and jail times up to three years. That’s why you need a reliable criminal defense lawyer. They can help to get the best out of a bad situation.

  • Vehicle Code 23140

If the driver is younger than 21, the acceptable BAC of California level reduces to 0.05%. As soon as you reach this level.

The sentence includes the following:

    • License suspension by the DMV
    • Attending an alcohol education program
    • A $100 or higher fine

You could also face vehicle impounding if you refuse a BAC test or have prior convictions.

Legal Alcohol Limit

  • Vehicle Code 23152(d)

This section refers to the legal alcohol limit to drive commercial vehicles. You can’t have 0.04% or more BAC in your blood.

The sentences include the following:

    • Informal probation
    • Fine from $290 to $1K
    • Attending California DUI School from three to 36 months
    • Up to 12 months in jail
    • License suspension for at least 12 months
  • Vehicle Code 23152(e)

This code considers the legal alcohol limit for ride-sharing, limo, and taxi drivers. The BAC level is 0.08% if they are alone in the vehicle, but it reduces to 0.04% if they have passengers.

The sentence could include:

  • License suspension from six to ten months
  • Fine from $390 to $1K
  • Up to six months in jail

The sentence is harsher for second and further offenses. That’s when it’s strongly advised to find DUI defense lawyers that could come up with the best defense strategy for your case.

  • Vehicle Code 23136 – “Zero Tolerance” Law for Underage Drivers

According to this vehicle code, it’s unlawful for anyone who’s less than 21 years old to drive with a BAC of 0.01% or higher. The zero-tolerance law means that drivers under 21 will face an automatic license suspension if they are caught driving under the influence. You have the right to fight the decision to take away your license.

  • Vehicle Code 23154 VC – “Zero Tolerance” Law for People on DUI Probation

This is another code that reduces the allowed BAC level for drivers on probation to 0.01%. According to DUI probation, you agreed to specific terms during the probationary period. If you violate those terms, they might revoke your probation.


California Legal Alcohol Limit FAQ’s

How Accurate Are BAC Measurements?

The blood test is more accurate than a breath test. However, the breath test is instant and shows immediate results. It’s even more important that the Californian laws consider the results of a breath test admissible in court.

How Many Beers Is .08 Alcohol Level?

The experts agree that you need two to three 12-ounce beers to reach the legal blood alcohol limit in California. If you weigh 100 pounds, you should be safe with drinking two beers. However, this is all highly individual, so it’s best to keep your alcohol intake as low as possible.

How Many Drinks Can You Have and Still Drive in California?

The general rule is that three drinks are the limit. That means three shots, five-ounce glasses of wine, or 12-ounce beers. Don’t forget that the influence of alcohol is different for every individual. If you don’t feel ready to drive, please don’t sit behind the wheel.

What Blood Alcohol Level Is Lethal?

There’s no exact answer. For most people, alcohol starts causing problems at BAC levels over 0.08%. If you reach 0.40%, you could face severe nausea, drowsiness, and confusion. Vomiting, low body temperature, unconsciousness, irregular breathing, and blue skin can all be symptoms of an overdose. Extremely high alcohol levels can be lethal.