CA Drivers Under 21 Face Zero Tolerance DUI Penalties

April 9, 2021

What Is California's "Zero Tolerance" Law for Underage DUIs?

What Is California's "Zero Tolerance" Law for Underage DUIs?

To crackdown on underage drinking, California enacted a “zero tolerance” law regarding minors and DUI. It is a crime for anyone under 21 to drive with any detectable amount of alcohol in their bloodstream. The penalties for this violation are harsh, so anyone arrested for an underage DUI should seek an experienced DUI defense attorney to help them fight the allegations.

Underage DUI Does Not Require Impairment

DUI stands for driving under the influence. However, if you are under 21 years old, you can be convicted of a DUI without any showing that you were impaired by alcohol while driving. That is because California has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drivers.

To convict you of an underage DUI, a prosecutor must prove that you were driving a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01% or higher after drinking an alcoholic beverage.

In legal terminology, an “alcoholic beverage” can refer to any method of consuming alcohol, not just beer, wine, or spirits. For example, drinking cold medicine or mouthwash can lead to charges of underage DUI. It does not take much consumption to cause your BAC to reach 0.01%. So, any amount of alcohol can lead to an underage DUI if people under the drinking age consume alcohol and then drive.

Minors Must Submit To Roadside Breathalyzer

Unlike most motorists, drivers under 21 implicitly consent to submit to a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test. The PAS test is a roadside breathalyzer that attempts to determine your BAC. An individua under the age of 21 who is pulled over and suspected of drinking will have to perform the PAS test upon request of law enforcement. Refusal to take the PAS breathalyzer will result in an automatic suspension of your driver’s license for a year. This suspension is not eligible for a hardship license with work or educational driving privileges.

Adult drivers 21 and older can refuse the PAS test without penalty unless they have a prior DUI conviction. The PAS test is unreliable due to environmental factors, calibration issues, and inconsistent procedures. But if you are underage and the PAS test returns any trace of alcohol on your breath, you will be cited for underage DUI.

Zero Tolerance DUI Arrest Leads To Suspension

An underage DUI in California is not a crime but rather an offense with an automatic license suspension. Following your citation, you will receive a temporary 30-day license, pending an administrative hearing with the DMV.

At the DMV hearing, the length of your license suspension will be determined, including what hardship driving privileges you can maintain. These can include the right to drive to work or school or for family purposes.

Though a zero-tolerance under 21 DUI is not a crime itself, you can face arrest and charges under other DUI laws. For example, if your BAC exceeds 0.05% or if you are actually driving impaired, you can face the full penalties for these crimes. Typically, you can only be charged with one type of DUI for one incident. Underage DUI is different, allowing you to face the consequences of each offense.

After a citation for a zero-tolerance underage DUI in Fullerton, California, contact Chambers Law Firm to help protect your driving rights. Our experienced DUI defense attorneys can be reached at 855-397-0210 or

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