California DUI Laws, Limits, and Penalties

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Getting behind the wheel when impaired by alcohol or drugs is a serious offense. Those convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) can face penalties such as license suspension/revocation, hefty fines, and even jail time. The California DUI penalties increase if deemed a habitual offender.

A DUI conviction in California stays on your driving record for up to 10 years.

California has DUI in two groups

  • Blood alcohol level
  • Officer observations

The punishments are the same no matter how the officer(s) conclude you’ve driven under the influence. The point is to keep the roadways safe from those getting behind the wheel while intoxicated by either drugs or alcohol.

The California DUI Limit: BAC Levels and Impairments

California police offers can pull you over under suspicion of a DUI for several reasons:

  • Speeding
  • Greenlight hesitation
  • Lane weaving
  • Driving slowly

The office will check for signs like bloodshot eyes, alcohol odors, and physical behavior. If the officer’s suspicions are valid, you will take one of several field sobriety tests.

Anyone refusing an alcohol or drug test will receive a suspended or revoked license under the California Implied Consent Law. This includes refusing a breathalyzer with penalties increasing to 2 to 3 years if it’s a second or third DUI offense. Refusal to take these tests may also result in immediate jail time.

The officer typically makes the driver take a breathalyzer test – checking for blood alcohol levels. Those failing will be immediately taken for holding, and the vehicle will likely go into impound (more costs).

The BAC level minimums for a DUI in California are:

  • 21 years old and older: 0.08% and over
  • Under 21 years old: 0.01% and over
  • Commercial drivers: 0.04% and over

Medications may cause impairment, too, and aren’t exempt from sobriety tests and convictions. Be aware of your medications before getting behind the wheel else they’ll face the same penalties!

Additional sobriety testing may include you walking along a straight line, following the officer’s finger or light, and balancing. Those unable to show form will likely face DUI processing.

CA DUI Conviction: Penalties for First-time Offenders

The first DUI conviction is considered a misdemeanor in California. Regardless, the repercussions are harsh and carry a variety of minimum penalties and fines for the DUI:

  • Fines: $400 to $1000
  • Jail: Can include 48 hours to 6 months
  • Licensing: Suspensions for six months, one year for refusing a test
  • Probation: Usually 3 to 5 years

The driver may also need to have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle. Plus, take a safe driver’s course sometime between their suspension and probationary period.

California has a zero-tolerance law for anyone under 21 years old. Anyone caught driving over 0.01% will result in a 1-year license suspension, charges, fines, and educational classes.

CA DUI Conviction: Penalties for Repeated Offenders

Second and third DUI offenses carry heavier punishments:

  • Fines: $400 to $1000 plus extra assessments
  • Jail: 96 or 120 hours to 1 year (may include house arrest)
  • Licensing: 12-month administrative suspension
  • Probation: Usually 3 to 5 years

Injuries and Death while Under the Influence

Injuries caused by malicious driving while under the influence incur lofty fines and a misdemeanor or felony like those noted in the sections above. Fatalities cause by reckless driving under the influence can result in charges of vehicular manslaughter and/or murder.

Expect to pay high fines and serve time if you cause these incidents.

Getting Your Driving Privileges Back

Repeated DUI offenses in California may fall under their “three strike” law. This could result in mandatory prison sentencing – but this is typically reserved for items like major accidents, vehicle-related deaths, and the like.

Those having committed a DUI offense will have their license suspended or revoked.

Besides fighting it with the help of a California DUI attorney, your only real option is to wait out the probationary period and pay any associated fees. Drivers should refer to our suspended license guide to learn the steps and requirements for getting back on the road.


Driving under the influence in California is a serious offense and can result in severe, life-altering consequences. It’s best to follow all traffic laws, including not driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Remember to always designate a sober driver before going out to drink or use any substances that could impair your ability to operate a vehicle safely and responsibly.