Does California Have an Underage DUI Law?

California has a couple of different laws prohibiting individuals under 21 years of age from driving after consuming alcohol. The “Zero Tolerance” statute makes it a civil offense for an underage drinker to have any alcohol in their system. Violators are subject to a driver’s license suspension. With the “underage DUI” law, it’s an infraction if an underage drinker has an alcohol concentration of 0.05% or more. The offense is punishable by a fine and driver’s license suspension.

Although persons under 21 years of age can be prosecuted pursuant to the Zero Tolerance or underage DUI laws, they are not shielded from charges or criminal penalties under the “adult” DUI statute.

If you have been accused of drinking and driving, schedule a consultation with our Los Angeles team by calling Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP at (800) 462-7160 or submitting an online contact form today.

What Is California’s Zero Tolerance Law?

California Vehicle Code § 23136 provides that no person under 21 years of age shall drive a car when they have an alcohol concentration of 0.01% or higher. Various factors affect how much alcohol it takes to reach a BAC of 0.01% or higher, such as weight, age, and food consumption. But it doesn’t take much. Around 1 teaspoon of cough syrup is enough to get it to that limit. Essentially, a driver under 21 years of age consuming any alcohol before getting behind the wheel violates section 23136 of the Vehicle Code.

The level of alcohol in an underage drinker’s system can be measured by the officer administering a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS). The PAS is given on the side of the road at the time of the stop with a handheld breath test machine. If the driver refuses to blow into the device or they provide a breath sample and the results show a 0.01% BAC, the driver may be subject to a driver’s license suspension for 1 to 3 years.

A violation of the Zero Tolerance law is not a crime. Instead, it is a civil offense carrying only driver’s license suspension as a sanction. For a first offense, the DMV will suspend driving privileges for 1 year. If a police officer lawfully detains the driver and a PAS reveals that the individual had an unlawful BAC, the officer will issue a temporary driver’s license valid for 30 days. When it expires, the suspension will go into effect. The driver has 10 days to request a hearing with the DMV to contest the suspension.

The hearing is not a criminal proceeding. It is concerned with whether:

  • The officer had reasonable cause to detain the driver,
  • The driver had a BAC of 0.01% or higher,
  • The officer informed the driver that refusing the PAS would result in a driver’s license suspension, and/or
  • The driver refused the preliminary alcohol screening

What Is California’s Underage DUI Law?

The underage DUI law is codified in California Vehicle Code § 23140. It states that a person under 21 years of age is prohibited from driving a car when their BAC is 0.05% or more. A person can be charged whether or not they were impaired by alcohol. An offense under this section is an infraction, carrying a driver’s license suspension for 1 year and a fine of up to $100.

Can an Underage Drinker Face a Standard DUI Charge?

Although persons under 21 years of age can face sanctions under sections 23136 and 23140 of the vehicle code, they are not precluded from being charged with a standard DUI. The standard DUI Law (California Vehicle Code § 23152) provides that a person, regardless of age, commits an offense when they operate a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or with a BAC of 0.08% or higher.

Even if a person is under 21 years of age, if they violate section 23152, they face the same criminal penalties as a person 21 years of age or older.

Potential punishments for a first-time standard DUI offense include:

  • 96 hours to 6 months in jail
  • $390 to $1,000 in fines
  • 6-month driver’s license suspension

Get Help from an Experienced Attorney

California takes drinking and driving offenses seriously. Those under 21 years of age can face various sanctions for having any alcohol in their system while operating a vehicle. If you have been charged with a DUI, you can fight it to seek to protect your freedom and driving privileges. A criminal defense lawyer can help.

Discuss your case with one of our Los Angeles attorneys by calling Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP at (800) 462-7160 or contacting us online today.