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California DUI & Minors Under 21 Years Old

California has a zero tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving.

If you are under the age of 21 and you drive after drinking, you could lose your driver's license – even if you aren't drunk. And if you are drunk you face additional penalties – including possible time in county jail.

1.     California's Zero-Tolerance Law: One-Year License Suspension

California Vehicle Code 23136 makes it illegal for anyone under 21 to drive a vehicle with a BAC of .01% or higher.

Violating California's zero tolerance law is not a crime.  The sole penalty is suspension or revocation of your driver's license by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

How many drinks is enough to cause a BAC of .01%?

Your blood alcohol content depends on various factors, including:

  • How many drinks you consume,
  • How strong the drinks are,
  • How fast you consume the alcohol,
  • Whether you have eaten,
  • Your gender,
  • Your weight,
  • Your body type,
  • Your general health, and
  • Other substances in your system.

How is my BAC measured?

If you are suspected of intoxicated driving, the officer will usually ask you to take a preliminary alcohol screening test (PAS).  The PAS is a roadside breath test, given prior to an arrest.

If the officer actually arrests you on suspicion of a more serious charge, you may be required to take an additional chemical test.  This will usually be another breath test or -- if drug use is suspected -- a blood test.

What happens if I refuse to take a PAS or chemical test?

If you are an underage driver and you refuse a PAS or chemical test, your driver's license will automatically be suspended for at least one year.  In addition, you will lose your right to apply for a critical need restricted license.

The penalty for violating California's zero tolerance underage driving law

If you are caught driving with a BAC of .01% or higher and you are under 21, the officer will confiscate your driver's license. You will then be entitled to a California DMV hearing. You have only 10-days to request a DMV hearing.

If you lose -- or do not attend -- a DMV hearing, your driver's license will automatically be suspended for one year.

What are my rights during the DMV hearing?

During your California juvenile DMV hearing, you have the right to:

  • be represented by a DUI defense attorney,
  • testify,
  • call witnesses, and
  • cross-examine the state's witnesses (usually, the officer who arrested you).

Reinstating your driving privilege after a zero tolerance suspension

To reinstate your driving privilege after a California zero tolerance suspension or revocation, you must:

  • Pay a $100 reissue fee to the DMV,
  • File proof of financial responsibility (such as California driver's insurance), and
  • Maintain proof of financial responsibility for three years.

2. Infraction For Drivers Under 21 With a BAC of .05% or Higher

California Vehicle Code 23140 makes it an infraction for anyone under 21 to drive with a BAC of .05% or higher. Infractions do not result in jail time.

A violation of VC 23140 subjects you to:

  • DMV suspension of your driver's license,
  • A fine of $100 (more if you have a previous DUI), and
  • A possible alcohol education program of three months or longer.

3. Standard California DUI - BAC of .08% or Higher / Actual Impairment

If you drive with a BAC of .08% or higher, or your driving is impaired due to alcohol and/or drugs, then regardless of your age, you may be charged with misdemeanor DUI.

The penalties for a California misdemeanor DUI are the same for both underage and adult drivers.  For first time offenders they include:

  • A one-year California DMV driver's license suspension,
  • Three to five years of informal (“summary”) probation,
  • Fines of $390 to $1,000,
  • A 3-month or 9-month alcohol and/or drug education program, and
  • Up to six months in county jail.

Anyone can make a mistake… especially younger drivers. But the police make mistakes, as well.  If you or your child has been arrested for underage drinking and driving, we can help.  Our Los Angeles DUI Lawyers are highly successful at challenging DMV suspensions and eliminating jail time for underage drivers.  We represent people accused of DUI throughout Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.  Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation.

Internet Resources:

California DMV - FAQ on Zero Tolerance License Suspension for Drivers Under Age 21

Alcohol impairment chart for males

Alcohol impairment chart for females

Southern California DUI Defense


DUI cases are rarely hopeless. DUI convictions are almost never inevitable. Clients retain our California DUI defense attorneys for one reason: they want to fight the case. And win.

Contact Us For Help

The police arrested you for DUI. You gave a blood or a breath sample. The DUI officer confiscated you drivers license. The police released you with a notice to appear in court in a few weeks. Where do you go from here? Our lawyers are here to guide you step by step.