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I’m Underage – What Happens if I Get A DUI in California?


We’ll skip the standard admonishments:

  1. You shouldn’t be drinking in the first place.
  2. If you do drink, you definitely shouldn’t drive.
  3. You could hurt yourself.
  4. Or someone else.
  5. You could end up on probation, doing community service, in real adult jail, or in juvenile detention.
  6. It’s expensive. You can end up paying ridiculous amounts of money on court fees, fines, and lawyers.
  7. Your license can get suspended until you’re eighteen.
  8. College: you can hinder your chances at getting into your college or university of choice.
  9. Paying for collgere: you can reduce your chances of getting scholarship assistance from colleges or universities.
  10. Work: you can reduce potential employment and career opportunities in the future.

Okay, busted.

We didn’t skip them. There they are again, for the thousandth time: ten compelling reasons not to drink and drive. Let’s ignore the first one for a moment and concede it’s statistically likely you’ll drink alcohol at least once during your teenage years. We’re not talking about a toast at a dinner party at home, your uncle sneaking you a beer at the 4th of July cookout, or drinking watered down wine as a cultural experience over dinner on a family trip to France.

We’re talking unsupervised drinking at a party at a friend’s house, in the backseat of a car – red flag! – or on a lazy summer afternoon at the super-secret spot your crew hangs out at. We know it happens, not just because we were teenagers once, too, but because statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tell us so. By the way, these stats are self-reported by teens, so the real numbers are likely higher than this, since most people downplay what they do when asked about illegal behavior. It’s natural. Even though surveys like these are anonymous, who actually comes one-hundred-percent clean?

The Real Data

Here’s what the National stats say:

  • Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the U.S.
  • 2,333 teens drivers were killed in car crashes in 2015
  • Almost 500 hundred of these (now dead) teens had alcohol in their bloodstream at time of death – that’s about 20%.
  • 7% of 8th graders, 20% of 10th graders, and 33% of seniors self-report drinking “more than a few sips” in the past month.
  • 10% of teenagers self-report drinking and driving at least once in the past thirty days. That’s 2.4 million instances of teen DUI per month.
  • Of those who self-report drinking and driving, 85% also report binge drinking
  • 20% of teens report riding in a car with a drunk driver at least once

That’s what the official data says. Take a minute and think about what you know about your peer group. It won’t take long to get a grasp the real numbers. If you’re rusty on how to work out percentages, think about it this way: imagine a group of ten typical teenagers – your friends, if you’re a typical bunch. Ask yourself these questions:

How many of them drink?

Of those, how many drink and drive?

How many of them get in cars with friends who’ve been drinking?

Now compare your personal experience with the CDC data. We used the number ten to make the percentages easy to figure out. You’re smart. You can do the math. We bet the numbers are higher than the CDC reports say they are, but you can judge that for yourself.

Underage DUI and California Law

Now that we’re done with all the stats and usual adult lecturing type stuff, it’s time to move on to the less serious consequences of teen DUI.

Less serious than being dead or going to a friend’s funeral, that is.

In California, Underage DUI Laws fall into three main categories:

  1. Zero-Tolerance Policy. Statute 23136 of the California Vehicle Code states:

“…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.”

It only takes less than one beer or standard drink consumed in an hour to reach O.01%, depending on your height and weight. This means that if you are caught driving with any alcohol in your bloodstream at all, you’ll dodge a bullet: all that happens is you’ll lose your license for a year. You won’t go to jail and it won’t be on your record.

  1. The Underage DUI Law. Statute 23140 of the California Vehicle Code states:

“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.”

It takes about two beers or standard drinks consumed in an hour to reach 0.05%, depending on your height and weight. If you’re caught driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.05% or over, the consequences are much more severe than for the zero-tolerance policy:

  • You lose your license until you’re eighteen, or for one year, depending on which is longer.
  • The DUI will go on your permanent record, affecting future school, scholarship, and employment opportunities.
  • The court requires you to pay a $100 fine.
  • You have to attend and pay a three-month DUI course.
  • You receive two demerit points on your driving record (4 points in a year triggers a six-month suspended license).
  1. Standard DUI Law. Statute 23152 of the California Vehicle Code States:

“It is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 years who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle.”

It takes three to four beers or standard drinks in an hour to reach 0.08%, depending on your height and weight. If you get caught driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or over, you will be charged with a standard, adult DUI. Consequences include:

  • A criminal misdemeanor will go on your permanent record, affecting future school, scholarship, and employment opportunities.
  • Fines between $390 – $1000, court costs, and lawyer fees, which can easily run upwards of $10,000. If you’re under 18, your parents pay. If you’re over 18, you pay.
  • Up to six months in a county jail (if over 18) or a youth detention facility (if under 18).
  • Suspension of license for at least one year.
  • Probation for three to five years
  • A three to nine-month alcohol/DUI education program, which you (or your parents) pay for.

But Wait: There’s More!

Just what you wanted to hear, right?

When you get pulled over and the police suspect you’re driving under the influence, they don’t need a breathalyzer test to charge you with DUI. They can also charge you with:

  1. Underage drinking – a separate offense.
  2. Possession of an open alcohol container, if they find one. The police will automatically impound the car for a month. You or your parents pay the impound fee, towing fee, storage fee, and release fee. This also carries separate fines of up to $1,000.
  3. Possession of alcohol in public, if they find you with alcohol on your person. This triggers 36-48 hours of community service, fines beginning at $250, and an automatic one-year suspension of license.
  4. If, for some reason, you’re pulled over for DUI and you refuse to take a breathalyzer test, you trigger an automatic one-year suspension of your license.

All that sounds pretty bad. It’s even worse, though, because the charges we listed about don’t cancel each other out. You can be charged with DUI + underage drinking + possession of an open container + possession of alcohol in public. The fines, penalties, and consequences are cumulative. They can all add up to thousands – possibly tens of thousands – of dollars in fines, fees, and legal costs, a license suspended for years, and a permanent criminal record.

Not to mention the whole increased risk of death thing.

ICYMI: Effect of Alcohol on Your Ability to Drive

Just as a reminder, one or two drinks impairs your visual ability, two to three drinks reduces coordination, reaction time, and lowers mental alertness, three to four drinks severely impairs muscle coordination, judgment, and slows reaction time further, and five or more drinks means a complete disruption in your ability to speak, think, or talk – much less drive safely. When you drink and get behind the wheel, it’s simple: you’re asking for trouble. You’re putting yourself and your family in serious financial and legal jeopardy, and you can also kill or injure innocent people: friends in the car with you, pedestrians, or people in other cars simply trying to go about their business.

And one thing we didn’t even bring up?

If you have an accident involving death or serious injury to another person, guess who’s responsible?

You are.

Think about that: are possible consequences of vehicular manslaughter, gross vehicular manslaughter, or DUI murder charges worth drinking and driving? The penalties range from 1-15 years in prison.

You decide.

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