In 2014, more than one hundred California traffic fatalities were linked to underage drinking. Of the under-21 drivers arrested for DUI in California in 2014, 526 were under the age of 18. In response to mounting concerns regarding underage DUI in California, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine will work alongside the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) to reduce intoxicated driving among San Diego area youths. The researchers say California needs more teen DUI education programs like the Teen Alcohol Awareness Program offered by the SDPD.

With funding from the California Office of Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the UC San Diego “TREDS” Program (Training, Research and Education for Driving Safety) will complement the San Diego Police Department’s Teen Alcohol Awareness Program by offering workshops to parents about how to communicate effectively with their teens about alcohol and driving. According to surveys conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 74 percent of young people under the age of 18 name their parents as the top influencers of their choices regarding alcohol.

Linda Hill is an M.D, the program director of TREDS, and a professor of family medicine and public health at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. She says, “In a recent survey, one out of ten high school students admitted to driving after drinking and one in four had been a passenger with a driver who had been drinking. Parental involvement can help guide teens away from substance use while driving.”

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The San Diego Police Department’s Teen Alcohol Awareness Program (TAAP), hosted at San Diego’s police headquarters, teaches teens and their parents about the risks and ramifications of intoxicated and drugged driving, the responsibilities of social hosting, and the penalties for violating local ordinances and state DUI and underage DUI laws. TAAP also allows teens to observe in person an active DUI checkpoint as it is being conducted by the SDPD.

Those under the age of 21 may not drink alcohol – whether they’re driving or not – in the state of California. Thus, anyone who is under 21 and who is arrested for driving under the influence may face even more penalties than an adult facing the charge. In California, the state defines DUI for those who are under 21, making underage DUI a complex and severe charge. A driving under the influence conviction can mean rejection from some colleges and can make it quite difficult for young people to pursue some careers.

WHAT IS CALIFORNIA’S “ZERO TOLERANCE” UNDERAGE DUI LAW?

An adult driver in California – someone age 21 or over – can be found guilty of DUI if that driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level measures at or above 0.08 percent. However, the law is different for drivers under age 21. If a driver under 21 measures any blood alcohol content whatsoever, that driver will face criminal charges. The penalties will depend on the underage driver’s BAC level at the time he or she is arrested. Those penalties are explained here:

• A BAC level from 0.01 percent to 0.04 percent: If found guilty, the underage driver will lose his or her driver’s license for one year. However, it will not count as a criminal charge, and a conviction will not create a criminal record or result in jail time.

• A BAC level from 0.05 percent to 0.07 percent: This is a criminal charge, and a conviction puts a DUI on the underage driver’s record. Jail won’t be required, but the driver will lose his or her driver’s license for a year, will be fined $100 and will be required to attend, pay for, and complete a three-month DUI class.

• A BAC level at 0.08 percent or higher: At this BAC level, an underage driver can face a number of criminal charges. A DUI conviction will probably mean more than a thousand dollars in fines and fees, up to six months in jail or juvenile custody, a three-to-nine-month DUI course, a driver’s license suspension, and at least several years of probation.

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A driving under the influence charge – particularly if marijuana or some other substance is involved – does not require a BAC level measurement. If a law enforcement officer sees a motorist swerving and driving recklessly, that officer can charge that driver with driving under the influence. If the driver is convicted, the penalties are identical to those for a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher.

WHY IS MORE THAN ONE CHARGE POSSIBLE FOR ONE DUI INCIDENT?

An underage drunk driver will usually face more than one charge for a single incident of driving under the influence. For example, if the BAC level of an underage driver is measured at 0.06 percent, and the driver was swerving as well, the driver could face three charges; violation of the Zero Tolerance law, underage DUI, and impaired or reckless driving. While a conviction in this situation only puts the DUI charge on the driver’s criminal record, the fines can pile up, and the driver’s license suspension can last a year or longer. If a driver is in possession of an open alcohol container in a vehicle, that charge will be added as well.

WHAT ARE THE “EXTRA-LEGAL” CONSEQUENCES OF UNDERAGE DUI?

The criminal penalties for an underage DUI conviction are serious, but for a young person, the extra-legal consequences of an underage DUI conviction can be even more serious. Colleges and universities may ask if you have a criminal history on their admissions applications, and applicants are required to be truthful. Employers may also ask if you have a criminal history, and any job that requires or entails driving will probably be unavailable to a young DUI offender.

An arrest for driving under the influence is not the equivalent of a conviction, and every underage DUI suspect is considered innocent in California until proven guilty. In Southern California, if you are charged with DUI, or if your teenager is charged with underage DUI, you’ll need to contact an experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney. An underage driver’s first offense, if there is no other previous criminal record, will not necessarily ruin a young person’s life – if the young person learns his or her lesson. Second and subsequent DUI offenses are not dealt with leniently by California courts.

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In Southern California, an experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney can help those accused of DUI, underage DUI, drugged driving, or any related charge. Of course, no result can ever be guaranteed in any criminal proceeding, but good DUI lawyers successfully defend their clients on a regular basis in this state, and most DUI attorneys will work hard and diligently to help a young person who is just starting out in life.