Every year in California, roughly 1,000 people die from drunk driving collisions. As recently as 2005, that number was over 1,700 for the year. Fortunately, the state has been cracking down on drunk drivers. So, anyone who drives while impaired is taking a huge risk. Keep reading to learn about the rules for DUIs and DWIs in California so that you can understand the dangers of driving drunk.

The Difference Between a DUI and a DWI

DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence, while DWI stands for Driving While Intoxicated. Technically, there is no difference between these classifications, in California. Some states have unique statutes for both DUIs and DWIs, but most of them use the terms interchangeably.

It is crucial to understand that intoxication does not always mean alcohol intoxication. Now that recreational marijuana is legal in California, the state considers impairment from smoking marijuana to be just as dangerous as alcohol. However, currently, there is no equivalent to a blood alcohol content (BAC) test for marijuana. But, California does have guidelines, called CANORML, regarding how to test for cannabis in both blood and urine.

Nationwide, anyone testing positive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) above .08-percent is considered impaired. However, law enforcement can also determine impairment based on driving ability and roadside tests.

The Punishment for a DUI

If you get a DUI in California, you may incur one of several punishments. It is up to the prosecutors to determine the best option, which is usually based on mitigating factors. For example, if you were pulled over for speeding, the punishment would likely be less severe than if you struck a pedestrian or building while drunk.

A DUI conviction will stay on your record for 10 years. If you continue to get convicted for driving while impaired, the punishments get more severe with each one, and a prior conviction can influence how the prosecution handles your case. Here is a quick breakdown of the penalties you may receive, depending on the number of offenses you have:

  • First Offense

    • License suspension – six months.
    • Fines and penalties – between $390 to $1,000.
    • Jail time – six months or fewer.
    • Ignition Interlock Device (IID) – up to six months or a 12-month restricted license.

An IID, is a device that connects to your vehicle’s engine. It acts as a breathalyzer and forces you to breathe into the machine before starting your car and while you are driving. If any alcohol is detected, the engine will not start, and the IID will notify law enforcement.

  • Second Offense

    • License suspension – two years.
    • Fines and penalties – between $390 to $1,000.
    • Jail time – 96 hours to one year.
    • IID – one year.
  • Third Offense

    • License suspension – Three years.
    • Fines and penalties – Up to $1,800.
    • Jail time – 120 days to one year.
    • IID – two years.

Having multiple offenses will severely impact you being allowed to continue to drive. Also, because the conviction remains on your record for a long time, it is easy to accumulate convictions unless you stop drinking and driving altogether. In many cases, multiple offenses come with mandatory jail time as well as fines or suspensions. Punishments are not mutually exclusive. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you could be looking at a variety of penalties.

Out of State Convictions

If you are arrested and processed for a DUI in California, prosecutors will check your record on a national database. If you were convicted of a DUI or DWI in another state, it will count as a first offense, even though it did not happen in California.

Alcohol Checkpoints

Another way that California works to prevent drunk driving is by setting up sobriety checkpoints. These stops are entirely legal and can be set up in areas with high numbers of convictions or collisions. Even if you weren’t breaking any other rules of the road, you could still be charged with a DUI if your BAC is above the legal limit at one of these checkpoints.

Bottom Line: Do Not Drink and Drive

Because DUIs can have such harsh punishments, a conviction can cause a serious problem. For example, if you need to drive for your job or even drive to your place of employment, you cannot afford to have your license suspended. Also, a conviction will likely lead to higher insurance rates, and it could impact your employment options.

If You Get a DUI, Call Us

The best way to avoid these issues is not to drive while impaired. However, if you are caught and charged with a DUI, we can help. In these cases, it is always best to have a competent legal team on your side to ensure that you understand your rights and options. Call us immediately before doing anything else.  You will be glad you did.