Many drivers think they can have a beer or two and still be under the limit to avoid a drunk driving arrest. However, for drivers under the age of 21, there is no "safe limit" for impaired driving. Drivers under the age of 21 are not supposed to have access to alcohol and any level of alcohol in the blood can be a zero-tolerance violation.
Drivers under the age of 21 and their families may have a lot of questions about under-21 DUIs and the consequences of a drunk driving arrest. If you were pulled over for a DUI in Contra Costa County or Alameda County, talk to an experienced California DUI defense attorney about your rights and legal defenses.
California's Zero Tolerance Laws
Driving after having a few drinks can actually trigger different violations and criminal charges for underage drivers. The type of penalty involved depends on the driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) after they are pulled over. The types of DUI penalties for under-21 drivers include:
- Zero-tolerance violation (0.01% to under 0.05% BAC)
- Under-21 DUI (0.05% to under 0.08% BAC)
- Regular DUI (0.08% or higher BAC)
Zero Tolerance Violation
Under California Vehicle Code Section 23136: “it is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 years who has a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.01 percent or greater, as measured by a preliminary alcohol screening test or other chemical test, to drive a vehicle.”
A zero-tolerance violation is not a crime, as long as the driver's BAC is not over the underage DUI limit. Instead, a zero-tolerance violation is a civil offense. The penalties for under-21 drivers with a breath test violation can lose their license for a year, or delay your ability to get a license if you don't have one.
Under California Vehicle Code Section 23140: "It is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 years who has 0.05 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle."
An underage DUI is more serious than a zero-tolerance violation. Penalties for driving with a BAC of 0.05% or higher include a suspended license for one year, fines, and DUI school.
Regular DUI for Drivers Under 21
A driver under the age of 21 with a BAC of 0.08% or higher will not just face underage drunk driving penalties but the full consequences of an adult DUI. Drivers under 21 may not be old enough to drink legally but if they are 18 or older, they are legally adults in California and can face adult criminal consequences.
Under California Vehicle Code Section 23152: "(a) It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle. (b) It is unlawful for a person who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle."
This is the same DUI law that older drivers have to deal with after a drunk driving arrest. There are also generally more penalties associated with this misdemeanor offense, including possible jail time, fines, DUI school, a suspended license, IID driving restrictions, community service, and probation.
Chemical Testing Accuracy for Under-21 DUIs
Drivers under the age of 21 have different rules for chemical testing when driving on California roads. Chemical testing for an alcohol DUI can involve a roadside preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test or chemical breath testing after arrest. Most drivers are not required to submit a PAS test. However, drivers under the age of 21 must submit to a roadside breathalyzer.
Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) Device
The preliminary breath test is done with a handheld device that some call a breathalyzer. These tests are done on the side of the road and may seem familiar to people who watch police arrest videos. Unfortunately for many drivers, these tests are not always accurate and false-positives can lead to innocent people getting arrested for a DUI.
Contrary to what many people think, for most drivers over the age of 21, these tests are not mandatory. Drivers can refuse a PAS test with no legal consequences. However, some drivers, including commercial drivers, under-21 drivers, and drivers on probation for a DUI may be required to submit a breath.
If a driver under-21 refuses to take a PAS breath test, the DMV can administratively suspend the driver's license for a year.
Chemical Testing After Arrest
If an underage driver shows a PAS breath test result of 0.05% or higher, or if the driver refuses a PAS test, they may be arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. As part of the arrest and booking procedure, drivers of any age will have to submit a chemical breath test. This test is not optional for drivers, including those 21 and older. Drivers in California are considered to have given their "informed consent" to breath testing after a drunk driving arrest.
These tests may be more accurate than the handheld testing devices but they can still be wrong. There are a lot of reasons why a chemical breath test could be inaccurate, including medical condition, contamination, or using machines that are not properly maintained or calibrated.
Defenses to Zero Tolerance or Underage DUIs in California
Underage drivers still have rights when they are accused of drunk driving in California. An underage DUI can have serious legal consequences for young people in the East Bay. Not only can a driver lose their license but they may end up with a criminal record. A criminal record for a young person can follow them for the rest of their lives.
If you were arrested for a DUI or underage DUI in Oakland or the East Bay, talk to an experienced DUI defense attorney for advice. Your lawyer can challenge the traffic stop, challenge the basis for the arrest, or show the inaccuracies with chemical breath testing devices used by the police. To find out more about your legal defense options, call a lawyer as soon as you can to keep your license and avoid a criminal conviction.
East Bay DUI attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 39 years of criminal defense experience and understands the challenges involved in DUI cases for young drivers. Contact a local DUI defense lawyer who understands DUI defense strategies and to give you the best chance for success.