The Penalties for Underage DUI in California

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underage dui san diego california

Underage drivers in California are those drivers under the age of 21.

California teenagers can apply for a learner’s permit when they reach the age of 15½ but must complete an approved driver’s education course.

Such courses, with 25 hours of instruction, are offered by a state-licensed driver’s education school.

Once teenagers reach the age of 16, they can apply for a provisional license that carries restrictions, but only after they have completed the driver’s education program.

In other cases, 14-year-old teenagers with certain hardships can apply for a junior permit that allows them to drive to school, work, or to the family business, particularly if there is an illness in the family.

Go here to find out more about getting your first license.

California Vehicle Code § 23136

Underage (under 21) drivers cannot drive with any alcohol in their system, including from over-the-counter (OTC) medications that contain alcohol.

If an underage driver is tested and found to have 0.01 percent (and more) of alcohol in his or her system, the driver may be charged with a civil offense and have the driver’s license suspended for one year.

In a teenager’s life, having a suspended license for a year is a long time. If subsequent events occurring before reaching 21, the driver will have a longer suspension term applied to the license.

When Taking OTC Drugs

Drivers of any age should always check the ingredients on OTC drugs, such as cough syrup, cold and allergy pills, anything that could possibly register as alcohol in the breath or in the blood.

Some drugs will also make you drowsy, and you do not want to take those either. If you are going to drive anywhere, do not take anything at all, so you can stay safe.

Underage drivers, by the very fact of obtaining any driver’s license, must always submit to whatever tests the peace officer requests of the driver.

The tests given are the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test and the DUI chemical test.

A Common Scenario

Joseph Johns (not his real name), 18, had been in school classes all day and had been suffering the onset symptoms of a cold or flu.

About three hours before leaving school, he found some of his cold pills he had taken last year for that head cold that had nearly put him down to full-time rest.

The pills were not in a box that he could check any warning labels, but he was sure he would be okay with these.

After school was over, Joseph ran to his car, eager to get home to take a small nap before tackling homework.

He felt a little sleepy but did not think anything of it.

He drove the car at what he thought was normal speed, but he was also eager to get home too.

He stopped at the light one block before he would be turning onto his home street. Then he noticed a police car with its lights on sitting behind him.

Joseph turned right and pulled over, the police car right on his tail.

After checking Joseph’s identification, the officer had him do a breathalyzer test and the BAC percent was 0.02.

Joseph could not figure out why there was any percentage but then he remembered he had taken a swig of cough syrup that he had stashed in his locker.

Joseph’s license was suspended for a year.

If you have been charged with a DUI or had your license suspended, give us a call at once. Call us today at 619-234-2300.

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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