DUI Laws

California DUI Laws – Driving Under Influence

DUI or Driving Under Influence laws in California are governed by the Vehicle Code, Division 11.5 – Sentencing for driving under the influence. Driving under influence has serious consequences, and we advise you to examine the law carefully, and if in legal trouble hire an experienced attorney.

As per state of California law it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is:

  • 0,08% or higher (21 years old, operating a regular passenger vehicle)
  • 0,04% or higher (when operating a commercial vehicle)
  • 0,01% or higher (less than 21 years old)

DUI laws for California include medications as well, meaning you are legally not permitted to operate a vehicle in case of consuming legal or illegal drugs. This includes excessive amounts of certain prescription or over-the-counter medication, or even products with high amount of alcohol such as cough syrup.

Driving while intoxicated in California has serious penalties and consequences, so take a look below for our basic overview of penalties and fines included.

DUI penalties

Penalties for drunk driving charges vary from case to case. They can include any or all of the following:

  • suspension of your driver’s license
  • fines
  • jail time
  • community service
  • DUI school
  • installation of an ignition interlock device (IID; costs around $800)

Minimum penalties for a first DUI conviction include the following:

  • $390 fine plus assessments totaling to about $1,800
  • mandatory 48-hour imprisonment
  • 90-day license restriction (restriction means you may still drive from and to your place to work, as opposed to suspension)
  • Attendance and completion of a 3-month alcohol treatment program, costing about $500
  • Loss of driver’s license for a minimum of 30 days

Maximum penalties for a misdemeanor DUI conviction are much harsher and include over $3,600 in fines and six months in county jail. There may be other penalties as well, such as vehicle impound fees or installing an IID device.

As a first offender you will also be on probation for 3-5 years, and any further misdemeanor charges brought against you can result in increased fines. This does not include small traffic infractions such as speeding tickets.

If you are convicted again within 10 years for a second or third DUI offense, you can expect the penalties to increase further. For a 4th DUI conviction within 10 years you can be charged with a felony!

Causing an injury or death while DUI

The penalties described above exclude any harm to other people. In case you kill or injure another person while driving under influence, you can be convicted of a felony and can face jail time for over 1 year. If you’re found guild and have previous DUI convictions within 10 years on record, this penalty can increase to up to 5 years in prison.

Refusing a breathalyzer test

Refusing to submit to a breathalyzer or other chemical test to determine your blood alcohol level has additional penalties. Your driver’s license will be suspended for 1 year. In case it’s your second or third offense, your drivers license will be revoked for 2 or 3 years, respectively.

Zero tolerance law

The so-called “Zero Tolerance Law” in California means that all novice drivers under the age of 21 are not permitted to drive with any blood alcohol concentration. First-time drunk drivers will have their license suspended for 1 year, and will have to attend DUI school and pay several hundred dollars in fines, in addition to having criminal charges brought up.

Second or each subsequent offense of course has increased penalties.

Furthermore, by California DUI laws anyone under 21 is not permitted to possess alcohol in vehicles unless the container is full, sealed and unopened, and that person must be in the presence of a parent or other legal guardian.

Other related offenses

Depending on a particular case, along with DUI you can also have other charges brought against you, commonly including but not limited to:

If found guilty, each of these offenses can include and add additional penalties.

DUI conviction is a serious offense, but there may be ways to reduce your sentence or penalties. We strongly suggest contacting a competent and experienced lawyer if you are facing DUI charges.


  1. California Vehicle Code – Sentencing for driving while under the influence
  2. California DMV – DUI & DWI Laws
This article about California DUI Laws – Driving Under Influence was last updated in 2024. If any of our information is incomplete or outdated please let us know. Thank you!