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San Diego: Under 21 And Charged With Driving While Under The Influence

In California, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcohol. Further, anyone under the legal limit must be alcohol-free when driving. This is codified in California Vehicle Code Section 23136, the Zero Tolerance Law, which states, “[I]t is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 years who has a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.01 percent or greater, as measured by a preliminary alcohol screening test or other chemical test, to drive a vehicle.”

The Zero Tolerance Law is a civil offense and is handled through the DMV. Any underage driver who is detained or arrested for drunk driving is required to submit to a preliminary alcohol screening test (PAS) or other chemical test. If the driver refuses or fails to complete the test or the blood-alcohol content (BAC) is .01% or more, the DMV will suspend or revoke the youth’s driver’s license.

If the under 21 year old driver took the PAS or other chemical test and the results were .01% or higher, their driver’s license suspension is one year. If the driver refused or failed to complete the test, the license suspension is one year for the first offense, revoked for two years for the second offense within 10 years, and revoked for three years for three or more offenses within 10 years.

The Suspension/Revocation Order and Temporary Driver License will allow the driver to continue to drive with the same privileges and restrictions as they had under their driver’s license for a period of 30 days from the date it was issued. After that 30-day period, the driver’s license is automatically suspended or revoked unless within 10 days after the date of detention or arrest the DMV is contacted to request a hearing to challenge the suspension or revocation. You may hire a San Diego criminal defense attorney to represent you and your interests at the DMV hearing. If you prevail at the hearing, the suspension or revocation will be set aside and your driving privileges are restored in full.

On the first offense, if the suspension or revocation is not challenged or if you do not prevail after the DMV hearing, but the driver completed a chemical test, the driver may apply for a critical need restriction after the 30-day suspension, under CVC 12513, 13353.8. This will only be granted if the driver can show a critical need to drive and that other transportation options are inadequate.

California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 23136 does not preclude further criminal prosecution under the other driving under the influence statutes including CVC Section 23152 and 23153, which are wobblers, meaning they can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. In addition, there is another CVC section that specifically deals with under 21 drivers, CVC Section 23140. Under this section, is it an infraction for anyone under 21 years old to drive with a blood-alcohol content of .05 — .07%.

The above blog article is by no means all-inclusive and is not legal advice. For information about a specific case, speak to a drunk driving attorney in your area.


If you are under 21 years old and you were detained or arrested for drunk driving, you only have ten (10) days to contact the DMV to schedule a hearing to challenge the suspension or revocation of your license. You have a right to hire legal counsel to represent your interests and fight the DMV action. Do not delay. Contact The Law Offices of Susan L. Hartman today at 619-260-1122 or use the “Contact Us” form on this page to find out about how we can help fight your case.