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Zero Tolerance: California Underage DUI Laws and Penalties

Alcoholism among young people - teenager drinking beerEvery day, eight teenagers across the country die in crashes caused by driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol. Deaths among teenagers make up 20% of all alcohol-related crashes.

Even though people between 12 and 20 years of age cannot legally drink alcohol, this age group is responsible for 11% of all alcohol consumption in the U.S. every year. Of that consumption, 90% comes from binge drinking.

As a result, people under the legal drinking age are high-risk drivers. Many states, including California, have enacted a zero-tolerance policy in an attempt to reduce underage drinking and driving. Zero tolerance means that drivers in this category can be charged for driving after having consumed a very small quantity of alcohol.

Zero Tolerance Laws and Penalties

In California, a DUI arrest depends on two things:

  1. The blood alcohol concentration (BAC) measured by the police in a breathalyzer, and
  2. Your age

If you are under 21 years of age, you can be arrested under the zero-tolerance law if you have a minimum BAC of 0.1%. The penalties of the zero tolerance law are as much as $250 in fines, a minimum of one year license suspension, and a three-month mandatory alcohol education course that you pay for and attend.

In other words, if convicted under zero tolerance law, you will lose your license for one year, as well as having to pay fines and take a course.

A zero-tolerance conviction does not go on your record as a criminal conviction. It also doesn’t add any points to your driver’s license.

Underage DUI Laws and Penalties

There is a related charge, however, that can apply to people under the age of 21 who have a BAC of 0.05% or higher. This is known as the “underage DUI.”

If you are convicted of an underage DUI, you can have your license suspended for one year and be fined a minimum of $100 and as much as $300. Mandatory alcohol education is also a part of this conviction.

Underage DUIs will be on your criminal record for at least 10 years if you are convicted. This is important because both college and job applications often ask if applicants have ever been convicted of a crime. You will have to answer yes, which can be grounds for denying the application.

Two points go on a driver’s license for an underage DUI conviction.

DUI Laws and Penalties for Adults of Legal Drinking Age

If an adult 21 or older is arrested with a BAC of 0.08% or above, penalties for a DUI conviction include fines, a jail sentence, and may include license suspension and mandatory alcohol education that the defendant must pay for and attend.

It can also include points on a driver’s license and is always part of the permanent criminal record.

All the Laws and Penalties Can Be Combined for Underage Drivers

It’s important to know that underage drivers can be charged with a combination of these laws.

In other words, a driver under 21 years old with a BAC of 0.08% can be charged with a violation of the zero-tolerance law, the underage DUI law, and the standard DUI law that applies to those over 21. A combination of penalties, including fines, jail time, license suspension, and points on a driver’s license, may apply.

When You Need an L.A. Auto Accident Lawyer

The statistics on people under 21 combining drinking and driving are very sobering. The penalties if arrested and convicted can be very serious and have life-long consequences.

If you need an experienced Los Angeles auto accident lawyer because of a suspected DUI collision, contact us. The Salamati Law Firm has an excellent record of obtaining justice for clients in auto accidents caused by drunk drivers throughout Southern California.

Call us today! We will provide a consultation at no charge. Payment will come from any final jury award or settlement amount.

More info on underage drinking & driving laws in CA:

  1. Teen Driving Crash and Fatality Stats. Administrative Office of the Courts, State of California. http://www2.courtinfo.ca.gov/stopteendui/teens/facts/teen-driving-crash-and-fatality-stats.cfm
  2. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol & Public Health. Fact Sheets. Underage Drinking. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm
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