California Driver Handbook

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Section 26 of 28

Alcohol and Drugs

Alcohol/Drugs and Driving Is Dangerous

Alcohol and/or drugs impair your judgment. Impaired judgment or good sense affects how you react to sounds and what you see. It is also dangerous to walk in traffic or ride a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Much of what has been said about alcohol also applies to drugs. California’s drunk driving law is also a drugged driving law. It refers to “DUI of alcohol and/or drugs.” If an officer suspects that you are under the influence of drugs, the officer can legally require you to take a blood or urine test. Drivers who refuse these tests are subject to longer DL suspensions and revocations.

The use of any drug (the law does not distinguish between prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal drugs) which impairs your ability to drive safely is illegal. Check with your physician or pharmacist and read the warning label if you are not sure that taking the medication will affect your driving. Here are some facts:

  • Most drugs taken for colds, hay fever, allergy, or to calm nerves or muscles can make a person drowsy.
  • Medicines taken together or used with alcohol can be dangerous. Many drugs have unexpected side effects when taken with alcohol.
  • Pep pills, “uppers,” and diet pills can make a driver more alert for a short time. Later, however, they can cause a person to be nervous, dizzy, and not able to concentrate. They can also affect the vision.

Any drug that “may cause drowsiness or dizziness” is one you should not take before driving. Make sure you read the label and know the effects of any drug you use.

Use or Possession of Alcohol or Cannabis Products in a Vehicle

The law is very strict about use or possession of alcohol or cannabis products in a vehicle on or off the highway. It is illegal to drink any amount of alcohol, or smoke or ingest any cannabis product while driving or riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle. A container of alcohol carried inside the vehicle must be full, sealed, and unopened; however, this law does not apply to nondriving passengers in a bus, taxi, camper, or motor home. An open container of alcohol must be kept in the trunk of the vehicle or a place where passengers do not sit. Keeping an open container of alcohol in the glove compartment is specifically against the law. In addition, the law prohibits the possession of an open container of cannabis or cannabis product when operating a motor vehicle.

Drivers Under 21 (Possession of Alcohol)

If you are under 21 years old:

  • You may not carry liquor, beer, or wine inside a vehicle unless you are accompanied by a parent or other person as specified by law and the container is full, sealed, and unopened.
  • If you are caught with an alcoholic beverage in your vehicle, the vehicle may be impounded for up to 30 days. The court may fine you up to $1,000, and either suspend your driving privilege for 1 year or require DMV to delay the issuance of your first DL for up to 1 year, if you are not already licensed.
  • Your driving privilege will be revoked for 1 year, if you are convicted of either driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01% or higher or driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol and/or drugs. On the first offense you will be required to complete the educational portion of a licensed DUI program. A subsequent offense may require a longer DUI program and you will not have a restricted DL to attend the DUI program.

Exception: You may carry alcoholic beverages in closed containers, while working for someone with an off-site liquor sales license.

Drivers of All Ages

It is illegal to drive after consuming excessive amounts of alcohol in any form (including medications such as cough syrup), or taking any drug (including prescription medications), or using any combination of alcohol or drugs that impairs your ability to drive.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits

It is illegal for any person to operate a vehicle with a:

  • BAC of 0.08% or higher, if the person is 21 years old or older.
  • BAC of 0.01% or higher, if the person is under 21 years old.
  • BAC of 0.01% or higher at any age, if the person is on a DUI probation.
  • BAC of 0.04% or higher, in any vehicle requiring a CDL—with or without a CDL issued to the driver.
  • BAC of 0.04% or higher, when a passenger for hire is in the vehicle at the time of the offense.

DMV can take an administrative action against your driving privilege after you are detained or arrested for a DUI. The court may take a separate action for the same offense. DMV’s action is related only to your driving privilege. The court’s action may involve a fine, jail time, delay of the DL, and completion of a DUI program.

When notified of a DUI conviction by the court, DMV will take an additional action to suspend or revoke your driving privilege.

Similar provisions (California Harbors and Navigation Code) apply when you operate any vessel, aquaplane, jet skis, water skis, or similar devices. These convictions are placed on your driving record and will be used by the court to determine “prior convictions” for motor vehicle DUI sentencing. These convictions are also used when determining the length of a suspension or revocation action or the reinstatement requirements, because of a violation you committed while driving a motor vehicle.

Admin Per Se

When you drive in California, you consent to have your breath, blood or, under certain circumstances, urine tested if you are arrested for DUI of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both.

If arrested, the officer may take your DL, issue you a temporary DL for 30 days, and give you an order of suspension. You may request a DMV administrative hearing within 10 days. The arresting officer may require you to submit to either a breath or blood test. You do not have a right to consult with a lawyer before selecting or completing a test.

If your BAC is 0.08% or higher, the peace officer may arrest you (CVC §§23152 or 23153). If the officer reasonably believes you are under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs, and you have already submitted to a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) and/or breath test, you may still be required to submit to a blood or urine test because the breath test does not detect the presence of drugs.
 
If you refuse to submit to the required blood and/or urine test(s), your driving privilege may be suspended because of your refusal. Even if you change your mind later, your driving privilege may be suspended for both reasons, although both actions will run concurrently.

Under 21—Zero Tolerance for Alcohol Use

If you are under 21 years old, you must submit to a hand-held breath test, preliminary alcohol screening (PAS), or one of the other chemical tests. If your BAC measures 0.01% or higher on the PAS, you may be suspended for 1 year.

If your PAS shows a BAC of 0.05%, the officer may require you to submit to either a breath or blood test.

If a subsequent test reveals a BAC of 0.05% or higher, the officer will issue you an order of suspension and arrest you for DUI (CVC §23140).

Court DUI Convictions

If you are convicted of DUI of either alcohol and/or drugs or both, and you have an excessive BAC level, you may be sentenced to serve up to 6 months in jail and pay a fine between $390–$1,000 the first time you are convicted. Your vehicle may be impounded and is subject to storage fees.

On the first conviction your driving privilege will be suspended for 6 months and you will be required to complete a DUI program, file a California Insurance Proof Certificate (SR 22/SR 1P), and pay all fees before your DL can be reinstated. The length of the program may vary. If your BAC is 0.15% or higher, and you already have a record of other alcohol-related violations or you refuse to submit to a chemical test, the court may order you to complete a 9 month or longer program. If your BAC is 0.20% or higher and the court refers you to an enhanced DUI treatment program, your DL will be suspended for 10 months. You could also be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on your vehicle. An IID prevents you from starting your vehicle if you have any alcohol on your breath. If anyone is injured as a result of your DUI, the suspension period is 1 year.

In cases involving serious injury or death, you may face civil lawsuits. All DUI convictions will remain on DMV’s records for 10 years. The courts and/or DMV may impose more stringent penalties for subsequent violations during that period.

A BAC below legal limits does not mean that you are safe to drive. Almost all drivers show impairment by alcohol at levels lower than the legal limit. The impairment you exhibit at the time you are stopped may be enough to convict you of a DUI even without a BAC measurement.

Get a DUI – Lose Your License!

It is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or more (0.04% for commercial vehicle drivers and 0.01% if under 21). Other factors, such as fatigue, medications or food may affect your ability to legally operate a vehicle. The table below gives an estimate of blood alcohol levels based on the number of drinks consumed, gender, and body weight. REMEMBER: Even one drink is likely to affect your ability to drive safely!

Blood Alcohol Content Chart

Drivers 21 and Older—DUI Programs and Restricted Driver Licenses

Completion of a DUI program is required for all DUI convictions. Generally, if you are over 21 years old, enroll in a DUI program, file a California Insurance Proof Certificate (SR 22/SR 1P), and pay the restriction and reissue fees, DMV will issue you a restricted DL, unless you hold a CDL. First DUI convictions are allowed a license that restricts you to drive to/from work, during the course of employment, and to/from a DUI program. However, if you are considered a “traffic” or “public safety” risk, the court may order DMV to not grant you a restricted DL. Other actions against you may also prohibit the issuance of a restricted DL.

Commercial drivers are disqualified for 1 year and cannot obtain a restricted CDL without downgrading to a noncommercial license (see California Commercial Driver Handbook (DL 650) for more information).

Second and subsequent DUI convictions result in increased penalties, including a 2 year suspension or a revocation of up to 5 years. After you complete a prescribed period of your suspension/revocation and either enroll in, or complete a portion of, a DUI program, you may obtain a restricted DL to drive anywhere necessary, if you:

  • Install an IID on your vehicle.
  • Agree not to drive any vehicle without an IID.
  • Agree to complete the prescribed DUI program.
  • File an SR 22.
  • Pay the reissue and restriction fees.