DUI Laws in California

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From 2003 to 2012, more than 10,000 people were killed in drunk-driving crashes, according to data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). In an effort to reduce drunk-driving fatalities, California introduced the admin per se laws in 2011, thereby allowing the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to confiscate the drivers licenses of those found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI).

Under California DUI laws, which are found in Vehicle Code Section 23152, it is illegal for drivers who have reached the legal drinking age of twenty-one years or older to operate a regular passenger vehicle or a commercial vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) higher than 0.08 percent and 0.04 percent respectively.

The law forbids drivers under the legal drinking age from operating motor vehicles with any amount of alcohol in their bloodstream, meaning that even 0.01 percent BAC is grounds for DUI for minors. It is important to note that California’s DUI laws include medications, too. With that in mind, here is some more information about DUI laws in California.

An Overview of the Admin Per Se Laws

The admin per se laws take effect when you refuse or fail a chemical test. It is important to note that California’s DUI laws relate to your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of driving, not at the time of the test.

This means that if the arresting officer fails to take your BAC immediately after stopping you, a DUI attorney with knowledge in blood-alcohol analysis would be able to get you off the hook. That said, admin per se penalties usually include fines and license suspension for a period of six to ten months.

Minimum Penalties for First-Time Offenders

The penalties for a first-time DUI offender who causes no death or body injury are as follows:

  • A $390 fine, more than $1,000 in ordinary penalty assessments, plus additional DUI- only assessments. In total, these fines and assessments add up to about $1,800.
  • A ninety-day license restriction or forty-eight-hour jail sentence. If the former is imposed, it starts after a four-month DMV suspension or a one-month suspension followed by a five-month license restriction. During the restriction period, you would be able to drive to and from work if required, as well as to and from an alcohol rehab program.
  • If your BAC was lower than 0.20 percent, you would be required to attend and complete a $500 three-month alcohol rehab program. If your BAC was 0.20 percent or higher, you would need to attend a nine-month program. By attending this program, you would be able to reduce your penalty, especially if your license was suspended under the admin per se laws.  


Found in Vehicle Code Section 23152, California’s DUI laws largely relate to the blood alcohol concentration of drivers. In 2011, California passed the admin per se laws, allowing the DMV to punish drivers who commit a DUI in the state. DUI penalties range from fines to license restriction or suspension to jail time.

If you or your loved one has been charged with DUI, you should contact a DUI attorney immediately.