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Young drivers can be charged with numerous types of underage DUIs in California including charges for:

And enhanced penalties for:

  • 04% BAC if operating a vehicle for hires such as a Lyft or Uber driver
  • 05% BAC
  • Adult DUI, .08% BAC

It doesn’t matter if alcohol is the result of drinking alcohol or from cold medicines that contain alcohol. In addition to a DUI charge for blood alcohol content (BAC) above the limits noted above, legal and illegal drugs that impair a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely including cold medicines, pain killers, marijuana, and street drugs can result in DUI penalties.

Underage DUI in California

What is a “Zero Tolerance” DUI law?

Anyone under the age of 21 who is discovered driving while intoxicated is subject to California’s zero-tolerance law for underage drinkers. This law says that a blood alcohol reading of 0.01% or higher is treated as a traffic infraction and punished with a suspension of a person’s driver’s license for one year.

The blood alcohol level is typically measured at the time of the stop using a breathalyzer or other similar device. Note that alcohol from any source, including medication like cough syrup, is subject to this law, and if the driver refuses to submit to this testing, he/she is subject to an extension of driver’s license suspension of up to three years.

However, just like adult DUI license suspensions, the driver has the right to challenge the license suspension in front of the DMV, or seek restricted driving privileges if the challenge is unsuccessful.

Underage Drinking with a BAC of 0.05% or Higher

In addition to the zero-tolerance law for underage intoxicated driving, California has another law that elevates the penalties for underage drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.05% or higher. This reading is usually confirmed by an additional test at the police station.

This violation is still not considered a misdemeanor but does punish the driver with a one-year license suspension, a $100 fine, and a mandatory alcohol education program of three months or more. It is important to mention that any driver under the age of 21 that registers a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or more is considered legally impaired, and will be charged under the standard adult DUI offense laws.

Possessing Alcohol While Under the Age of 21

Finally, if an underage driver knowingly operates a vehicle that contains alcohol he/she could face charges for a misdemeanor offense unless the driver is accompanied by a parent, adult relative, or adult designated by the parent.

In addition, if the driver is not accompanied by an adult there is still a defense to this crime if the driver was in the process of following a parent’s instructions on transporting/delivering the alcohol.

Because this is a criminal offense, the possible penalties include impoundment of the vehicle for up to 30 days if it is registered in the name of the underage driver, a $1,000 fine, and a one-year suspension of the driver’s license.

The Different Rules for DUI Charges against Someone Under 21

What are the Penalties for an Underage DUI?

The penalties for underage DUI vary by the blood alcohol level, whether you submit to a chemical test when you are stopped, prior convictions, whether there are minors under age 14 in the vehicle being operated by an impaired underage driver, whether or not there is an accident, and if there is an accident, the extent of the injuries.

If the underage driver refuses to submit to a chemical BAC test, there is an automatic 1-year suspension of the driver’s license whether or not the arrest results in an under 21 DUI conviction. If the driver is an adult (age 18 – 20) and has a BAC of .05%, they will generally be required to attend a mandatory alcohol education program.

When injuries are involved, the driver may be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, at the prosecutor’s discretion. Injuries can lead to prison time that is tied to the extent of the injuries. In other words, the more severe the injuries caused by the impaired driver are, the longer the prison sentence is likely to be.

Getting an underage DUI in California when you have a prior conviction will lead to a 2-year revocation of your driver’s license.
An under 21 DUI that exceeds the legal limit for an adult DUI (.08% BAC) has stiffer penalties which can include 3 – 5 years of misdemeanor probation, fines, mandatory drug or alcohol education programs, and may include jail time.

When you refuse a lawful request for a chemical test to determine your blood alcohol level, the DMV can suspend or revoke your license regardless of the outcome of your DUI charge and you may be given enhanced penalties if you are convicted.

How Many People are Killed by Drunk Drivers?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a government agency that tracks statistics related to death and injury:

  • The risk that an underage driver between the ages of 16 – 20 will die in a car accident is 17 times higher when their BAC is .08% than it is when they are sober. That’s a sobering statistic, especially when added to the three times greater risk a teen driver has of dying in an automobile accident even when they are sober.
  • One out of five teenagers who are involved in a fatal accident drank alcohol before the crash.
  • Every day, six teenagers’ lives are cut short because they die from injuries sustained during a motor vehicle accident. Many of these deaths were preventable. Not drinking and driving reduce the risk of premature death.

 Underage DUI In Los Angeles, CA

What Happens if You Get a DUI in California under 21?

If you are arrested, you should use your best manners. Be polite. Do your best to remain calm. Use deep breathing exercises to help yourself calm down. Follow all the officer’s instructions. Refusing to follow instructions makes things worse for you and may increase the charges against you.

Do not admit to anything. In fact, say as little as possible. Don’t volunteer information. Provide the officer with your license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration. If they ask you questions, tell them you need to talk to your lawyer before you answer.

However, as an underage driver, refusing to submit to a BAC test will result in automatic penalties. You can, however, refuse field sobriety tests without penalties. Pay attention to what is said, the order it is said, and specific words. For example, if the officer tells you that you may lose your license for a year if you refuse to take the BAC instead of you will lose your license, it can make a difference in court.

If you are arrested, you’ll want the best criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles to represent you so contact us as soon as possible. You have a very limited time to request a hearing (10 days).

Finally, when it is all over if you qualify, you should look into having your DUI expunged from your record as a DUI in California will show up on background checks employers and landlords conduct in the future if it is not expunged.

Shaheen Manshoory
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