California DUI Laws

California DUI laws state that any driver over the age of 21 cannot have a blood-alcohol level of 0.08% or higher. Those under 21 must not exceed 0.01%.
Written by Jessica Barrett
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
California DUI laws state that any driver over the age of 21 cannot have a blood-alcohol level of 0.08% or higher. There are lower thresholds for those who are underage, on DUI probation, driving with a commercial license, or with a passenger for hire.
Each year, over 10,000 people in the US are killed on the road as a result of drunk driving crashes.
Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a dangerous crime and penalties vary by state. Even a first-time offense can cost drivers up to $10,000 in fines and legal fees—and it will most certainly impact your
California car insurance rates
, too.
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What is a DUI?

A DUI refers to driving under the influence while a DWI means driving while intoxicated or impaired. The state determines the difference between the two.
With a DUI, the charge could mean that the driver was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs—and the drugs don’t need to be illicit. Prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs can also lead to a DUI charge if you become impaired as a result of taking them.
Some states use a different terminology altogether, instead favoring OUI (operating under the influence) or OWI (operating while intoxicated).

DUI in California

In California, it is illegal to operate a vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of:
  • 0.08% or higher if you’re 21 or older
  • 0.01% if you’re under the age of 21
  • 0.01% or higher if you’re on a DUI probation
  • 0.04% or higher if you’re in any vehicle with a commercial driver’s license
  • 0.04% or higher if a passenger for hire is in the vehicle at the time of the offense
Key Takeaway There is zero tolerance for minors driving under the influence. Those under the age of 21 cannot carry alcohol inside a vehicle unless accompanied by a parent and the container is full, sealed, and unopened.
Every state has an implied consent law stipulating that you consent to be tested if you’re suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
If you’re lawfully arrested for a DUI, you must submit to a urine, blood, or breath test. California drivers who refuse to do so are subject to longer license suspensions and even revocation. You do not have a right to consult with a lawyer before completing the test.

Penalties for DUI in California

Penalties for DUIs are stiff in California and the conviction will remain on your driving record for 10 years.

First conviction

$390 to $1,000
Up to 6 months
License suspension
6 months
Vehicle impoundment
SR-22 requirement
You may be required to complete a DUI program, the length of which varies depending on the circumstances of your conviction. You may also be required to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle, which prevents you from starting the car if you have any alcohol on your breath.

Subsequent convictions

If you are convicted of a DUI again, you’ll be subject to increased penalties. You may face additional fines, up to a year in jail, a two-year license suspension, and an ignition interlock device for at least 12 months.
You may be able to obtain a restricted license that lets you drive when necessary (to work, for example) if you agree to:
  • Install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle
  • Only drive vehicles without an ignition interlock device
  • Complete the prescribed DUI program
  • File an SR 22
  • Pay the reissue and restriction fees
Key Takeaway Minimum penalties are often increased if you had a high blood-alcohol concentration or were involved in an accident where someone was injured—even for a first conviction.
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Does a DUI impact car insurance in California?

Yes, insurance companies take DUIs very seriously and you’ll be classified as a high-risk driver.
It can be difficult to secure insurance with a DUI on your record, so you’ll probably need to shop around a bit.
can quickly compare rates from up to 50 top providers so that you don’t have to spend time completing online forms and dealing with sales calls.
Expect substantially higher rates than what you were previously paying. Your insurance company will also need to file an SR-22 on your behalf to confirm that you hold the state-mandated minimum insurance.
MORE: How to fill out and file an SR-22

Other effects of a DUI

Beyond the conviction penalties and higher insurance rates, DUIs can have some other lasting impacts on your life.
License revocation: After a DUI, you run the risk of having your license revoked if you’re charged with other serious offenses.
Ignition interlock device: All states have some type of ignition interlock program requiring drivers convicted of a DUI to install an interlock device in their vehicle to disable the engine if alcohol is detected on their breath.
Background checks: Your DUI will show up on a background check, which can cause issues for future employment endeavors.

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