California: Underage DUI

The drinking age in California is 21 and consumption of alcohol by anyone under 21 is illegal with one exception: under age drinking is not penalized if the underage drinker is calling to report a medical emergency affecting another underage drinker. Because underage drinkers cause a disproportionate number of alcohol-related auto fatalities, the standards are stricter and the penalties may be harsher for those under 21.  More information about California’s teen driving requirements.

What constitutes driving under the influence?

California is considered a zero-tolerance state, although unlike other zero-tolerance states, the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) must be above .01%, in order for the driver to be cited for driving under the influence.

What are the penalties?

First DUI 

Second DUI


4 days up to 6 months

10 days up to 1 year


$1400 to $2600

$1800 to $2800

License Suspension

30 days to 10 months

2 years

What if you refuse the chemical test? Read about California implied consent laws

What other charges?

In addition to driving under the influence, an underage drinker may be charged with any of the following:

  • distributing alcohol to other minors (were there underage drunk passengers?),
  • minor in possession,
  • soliciting alcohol,
  • child endangerment law violations,
  • possession of false identification (was a fake id used to purchase alcohol?), and
  • moving and vehicle maintenance violations (what else did the arresting officer see?). 

What happens to insurance?

Some insurance companies may terminate a policy after an underage DUI (while others refuse to renew). Most companies simply raise the cost of the monthly premium by $100 to $200 (sometimes higher) for a higher risk policy. The raise usually stays in place for three to five years. You’ll also probably need to furnish the DMV with an SR-22 certificate to reinstate a license after suspension (as proof of insurability). Most insurance companies furnish this form to the DMV. Check with your insurer to see if it performs this service.

Dealing With a DUI?

If you're facing a DUI charge in California, see the following links for more information on what to expect:

  1. CA DUI Basics: FAQ's
  2. What are the Penalties/Consequences of a Conviction?
  3. Should You Go For a Plea Bargain?
  4. Blood & Breath Tests: How they Affect Your Case
  5. What Happens if You Don't Take the Breathalyzer or Blood Test?
  6. Five Things To Know About a DUI Case in California
  7. What Happens Before the Trial?
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