California actively and strictly enforces a zero tolerance policy against the consumption of alcohol by minors. While it is against the law for any person in California to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher, it is a crime for a person under 21 years old to drive a car with any amount of alcohol in the system. Even a blood alcohol content of .01% can land the person under 21 in serious hot water with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Implied Consent for Drivers Under 21 in California

Every person licensed to operate a motor vehicle in California, as a condition of getting his or her license, has already consented to offer a sample of blood, breath, or urine for chemical testing if ever accused of driving under the influence by a police officer. If they are under 21, not only has the person already implied consent to chemical testing, but he or she has also already implied consent to preliminary alcohol screening, which is usually administered by portable breathalyzer. Refusing either of these tests may subject the minor driver to additional criminal penalties, in addition to any penalty issued by the court for the original DUI offense. Refusal of these tests, regardless of what the results would have been and regardless of the outcome of a DUI trial, results in an automatic suspension of driving privileges for a period of time between one and three years, depending on the person’s driving record and criminal history.

Under 21 – .01% to .04

If a minor in operation of a motor vehicle is found to have a blood alcohol content between .01% and .04%, then the minor has committed a civil offense in violation of California’s zero tolerance policy punishable by an automatic suspension of driving privileges for one year.

Under 21 – .05% to .07%

If a minor in operation of a motor vehicle is found to have a blood alcohol content between .05% and .07%, then the minor has committed a misdemeanor punishable by a fine, the loss of driving privileges for a year, and a requirement to complete an alcohol education program before the minor’s license can be reinstated.

Under 21 – .08%+

Like drivers of any age, those under the age of 21 face severe consequences if found to be operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher. They face the loss of driving privileges, jail time, probation, fines, court ordered alcohol classes, and the consequences of having a criminal record.

What Can Be Refused

While preliminary alcohol screenings can’t be refused by drivers under the age of 21, they can refuse to perform field sobriety tests. A preliminary alcohol screening will usually require the driver to blow into a portable breathalyzer device, while field sobriety tests will require the driver to perform physical feats like walking a line heel to toe or touching the tips of the fingers to the tip of the nose. Not only do field sobriety tests make suspects of DUI look ridiculous, they also do very little to determine the actual amount of alcohol in a person’s system.