Alcohol Laws Teen Driving California

Alcohol Laws in California and Effects on Teen Driving

Alcohol is always dangerous when mixed with driving, but this situation can become even more serious when it’s teenagers behind the wheel.

Many teens do not have the experience behind the wheel to handle a car safely in different situations including driving at night, driving in inclement weather, or operating a vehicle with many passengers inside. This is what makes teen drivers extremely likely to be involved in an accident in general, and worse if they choose to mix alcohol with being behind the wheel.

In California, the crash rate for 16-year-olds is 3.7 times higher than drivers of all ages, while it’s 2.7 times higher for those ages 16-19. That same 16- to 19-year-old age group is 1.9 times more likely to crash than drivers of all ages once alcohol is part of the equation.

An accident involving alcohol can have catastrophic consequences, including serious injuries or even death. There may be criminal as well as civil penalties for a teen driver who causes an accident while under the influence. Plus, the guilt that follows you for life if you’ve caused an accident while drinking and driving — it just isn’t worth it.

It’s important to understand how drinking and driving laws and teenage driver laws in California intersect with teen driving concerns.

California Alcohol Laws and Penalties

In the United States, young individuals ages 15-19 represent approximately 7% of the U.S. population but account for 11% — $10 billion — of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries each year. Six teens ages 16-19 die each day from motor vehicle injuries.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States. Sadly, many of the teen car accidents are completely preventable and being aware of these risks and guarding against them can help to prevent serious issues.

The first major set of laws under California Vehicle Code that influences teen drivers is underage DUI. The legal drinking age is 21 in California, which also is a zero-tolerance state. Zero Tolerance Law makes it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01% or higher if you’re under 21. On your first offense, you’ll have your license suspended for a year, if your BAC is 0.01% or higher, or you refuse or fail to take the preliminary alcohol screening test.

If you get behind the wheel and injure someone, you could be held responsible for the injuries sustained by other parties. Even with appropriate insurance, another individual’s medical bills or wrongful death claims filed by surviving family members could have major financial implications for the teen driver and his or her family.

See also: DUI Arrest in California: What Do I Do Now?, Breathalyzer Laws in California

When Underage Drinking Leads to Other Charges

California takes underage drinking seriously, whether you’re behind the wheel or not. Even if you’ve narrowly escape a DUI or you’re a passenger in a vehicle, if you’re attempting to drink in California and you’re under 21, you’re breaking California law. Your driver’s license will be suspended for a full year if you’re caught, and if you’re too young or don’t have a license yet, you’ll have to wait a full year to get one.

Those rules, plus additional penalties, include:

  • Possessing false identification — minimum $250 fine and/or 24-32 hours of community service
  • Minor in possession of alcohol — $250 fine and community service
  • Attempt to purchase alcohol — $100 maximum fine and community service; if you actually are successful with purchasing, the fine goes up to $250

With second offenses, the fines and community service time increase, with most community service being completed at an alcohol or drug treatment facility or at a county coroner’s office. C.V.C. § 25658 (e). Parents and other adults also get in trouble for influencing teenagers’ decisions about alcohol, including potential child endangerment law issues and illegally distributing alcohol to minors, the latter of which is punishable by a $1,000 fine, community service, and potential jail time.

Restricted and Graduated Driving Laws in California

Despite the scary consequences of drinking and driving, California law makes it possible for teenagers to develop good habits early. In 2006, the state adopted provisional license restrictions, which substantially limit the ability for teen drivers to get in trouble behind the wheel.

For the first 12 months of having a license in California when you’re under 18, you must be accompanied and supervised by a licensed parent, guardian, or an instructor who’s at least 25 years old whenever you’re carrying passengers who are 20 years old or younger, or if you’re driving between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. You also can’t take a job where you have to drive a vehicle, like getting some extra money delivering food, when you’re under 18 in the state of California.

Individuals under age 18 also are prohibited from texting while driving under the Wireless Communications Device Law, and they can’t use an electronic device at all even if it’s hands-free. A police officer can pull over a teenage driver for this as their main offense, and write a ticket, which assigns points to your driving record. Under the DMV Point System in California, if a teenager receives 2 points for violations within one year, a 30-day restriction will be placed on his or her license. For 3 points, it’ll be suspended.

Drinking and a Young Person’s Future

Aside from dealing with potential injuries in an alcohol-related crash, other consequences associated with drinking and driving underage in California also can be long term.

Colleges are eligible to ask about your criminal history on their admissions applications. This means that you may be responsible for disclosing your DUI when you apply for college. They may even deny your acceptance as a result.

Bear in mind that some employers also may ask for your criminal history, and a DUI conviction can show up in a background check. In California, this doesn’t apply to most private employers, but public employers are allowed to ask. However, as of January 1, 2017, juvenile court decisions aren’t considered convictions that employers can inquire about under revised California Labor Code.

Get Help from an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer

If you have been pulled over as a teenager for a suspected DUI, it is important to reach out to an experienced attorney as soon as possible. In the event that you have recently been involved in an accident where you believe the teen driver may have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you may have rights to pursue a personal injury claim.

These situations can be extremely complex and very sensitive. A personal injury lawyer may be able to help you figure out your next steps and how to put your life back together so you can focus on healing. The San Fernando Valley Bar Association connects community members with personal injury attorneys with an average of 25 years of experience to help you win your case. Find a lawyer today using our Attorney Referral Service. There is no consultation fee for personal injury cases.

6 replies
  1. Rylie says:

    Thank you for putting this information together. My stepson was recently involved in an accident after getting his license and this information has been very helpful to read.

    • SFVB Attorney Referral Service says:

      Hi Rylie,

      We’re happy to hear you found this helpful and hope your stepson is okay. Please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.

  2. Steve Gonzalves says:

    These are really useful information on Every state has some type of ignition interlock law. It’s true, trying to talk your way and running out of a DUI is probably only going to cause more trouble for you. Thanks for sharing..!!

  3. Harrison says:

    Is the suspension always the same for underage drinking? I’ve quit drinking since, but will I not be allowed to drive to work anymore?

    • SFVB Attorney Referral Service says:


      If you took a PAS or chemical test, and the results showed a 0.01% BAC level or more, your driving privilege will be suspended for one year.

      However, if this is a first-time offense and you completed the PAS or chemical test, you may be able to apply for a “critical need” driver’s license (DS 694). A DUI attorney will be able to guide you through the process of contacting the DMV or Driver Safety Office for an application


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.