California Driver Handbook - 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 “driving under the influence 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 driver license 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 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.

Carrying Alcohol in a Vehicle

The law is very strict about carrying alcohol or drugs in a vehicle, whether the vehicle is on or off the highway. You must not drink any amount of alcohol in any vehicle.

A container of liquor, beer, or wine carried inside the vehicle must be full, sealed, and unopened. Otherwise, it must be kept in the trunk of the vehicle or in a place where passengers do not sit. Keeping an opened alcoholic drink in the glove compartment is specifically against the law.

In a bus, taxi, camper, or motor home, this law does not apply to non-driving passengers.

Drivers Under 21 (Possession of Alcohol)

If you are under 21 years of age:

  • 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 one year or require the DMV to delay the issuance of your first driver license for up to one year, if you are not already licensed.
  • Your driving privilege will be revoked for one 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 driver license 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 age 21 or older.
  • BAC of 0.01% or higher, if the person is under age 21.
  • BAC of 0.01% or higher at any age, if the person is on Driving Under the Influence (DUI) probation.
  • BAC of 0.04% or higher, in any vehicle requiring a commercial driver license (CDL)—with or without a CDL issued to the driver.

The 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 driver license 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.

Get a DUI - Lose Your License!

It is illegal to drive with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .08% or more (.04% for commercial vehicle drivers and .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!

DUI Chart

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