California License Suspensions for a DUI

“On-the-Spot” License Suspensions

In 1990, California became the 28th state to implement an immediate driver license suspension law for alcohol-impaired drivers, also referred to as an “Administrative Per Se (APS)” or “on-the-spot” license suspension law. The California APS law requires the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to suspend or revoke the driving privilege of persons who are arrested for driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more, or who refuse a chemical test upon arrest.

“Zero Tolerance” Laws for DUI

In January 1994, California implemented a companion driver license suspension law, known as the “zero tolerance law,” which requires DMV to suspend for one year any driver under age 21 with a BAC of .01% or more as measured by a preliminary alcohol screening test, or who refuses or fails to complete the test. These administrative actions are independent of any criminal penalties imposed in court for conviction of the driving-under-the-influence (DUI) offense. Upon arrest, or detention (as applicable in the .01% APS law), the driver’s license is immediately confiscated and an order of suspension or revocation served.

For either law, due process is allowed by the issuance of a 30-day temporary license intended to provide the driver with sufficient time to challenge the suspension through DMV administrative review. The time allowed to challenge the suspension was reduced from 45 days on July 1, 1993. As of January 1, 1993, offenders who are dismissed for insufficient evidence or are never charged by the court may request an APS dismissal hearing to consider setting aside the associated APS action. Under the .08% APS law, when a driver submits to and “fails” a BAC test and has no prior DUI convictions or APS actions, a 4-month license suspension is imposed.

Following 30 days of “hard” suspension, and providing they first demonstrate proof of insurance, show proof of enrollment in an approved alcohol treatment program, and pay all penalty fees, the law provided for such drivers to obtain either a 90-day restricted license to drive to and from an alcohol treatment program (repealed September 20, 2005), or (as of January 1, 1995) a 5-month restricted license which also allows driving to, from, and during the course of employment.

Prior DUI Convictions

A 1-year suspension is imposed on drivers having one or more prior DUI convictions or APS actions within 10 years, with a recently enacted (July 2010) provision for a restricted license following 90 days completion of a 18 months DUI program and installation of a ignition interlock device.

Under this law, for offenders refusing a BAC test, a 1-year license suspension is imposed for a first offense, a 2-year revocation is imposed for a second offender refusal, and a 3-year revocation is imposed for a third-or-subsequent offender refusal (within 7 years prior to September 20, 2005 and within 10 years thereafter). There are no provisions for issuance of a restricted license following a BAC test refusal.

The .01% BAC law requires a 1-year suspension and provides for a hardship restriction only if a BAC test was completed and the driver can demonstrate a critical need to drive.

Increased Penalties for Commercial Drivers

As of September 20, 2005 commercial drivers arrested in a noncommercial vehicle and having no prior DUI convictions or APS actions within 10 years are handled differently than other first offenders as they are no longer granted an automatic restriction to drive to, from, and during the course of employment following a 30-day “hard” suspension as they originally were. (A noncommercial vehicle is one not requiring a commercial driver license, or heavy-vehicle operator’s license, to drive.)