California Driver Handbook - Alcohol and Drugs


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

If arrested, the officer may take your driver license, issue you a temporary driver license 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 police 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 a 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 of age, you must submit to a hand-held breath test, PAS, or one of the other chemical tests. If your BAC measures 0.01% or higher on the PAS, you may be suspended for one 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 six months in jail and pay a fine between $390—$1,000 (plus about three times the fine in penalty assessments) 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 six months and you will be required to complete a DUI program, file a California Insurance Proof Certificate (SR 22), and pay all fees before your driver license 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 violations for other reasons or you refuse to submit to a chemical test, the court may order you to complete a nine-month or longer program. If your BAC is 0.20% or higher and the court refers you to an enhanced DUI treatment program, your driver license 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 one year.

Effective July 1, 2010, through December 31, 2015, all first time and repeat DUI offenders convicted in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento or Tulare Counties are required to install and maintain, for a specific period of time, an IID on all vehicles they own and operate and pay a $45 administrative service fee to reinstate their driving privileges (CVC §23700).

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 the 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.

Drivers 21 and Older—DUI Programs and Restricted Driver Licenses

The completion of a DUI program is required for all DUI convictions.

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

NOTE: Commercial drivers are disqualified for one year and cannot obtain a restricted driver license without downgrading to a noncommercial license (see Commercial Driver Handbook for more information).

Second and subsequent DUI convictions result in increased penalties, including a two-year suspension or a revocation of up to four 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 driver license 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.

Designated Driver Program

The Designated Driver Program is an anti-Driving Under the Influence (DUI) effort that works. This program encourages one individual to abstain from consuming alcoholic beverages during an outing, so he or, she can be responsible for transporting other person(s) safely.

To participate as a designated driver, an individual:

  • Should be at least 21 years of age and must possess a valid driver license.
  • Must be part of a group of two or more persons and verbally identify himself or herself as the designated driver to the server.
  • Must abstain from consuming alcoholic beverages for the duration of the outing.
  • Must not be an otherwise impaired driver.
  • Must understand that management reserves the right to refuse service to anyone at any time.

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