Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC is the California statute that prohibits driving under the influence of drugs. Any drug, whether illicit or prescribed, can lead to DUI charges if it impairs the person’s driving ability. Most convictions under California law are misdemeanors. However, some can be felony DUI offenses.
The text of the statute reads that “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.”
1. What drugs are covered by Vehicle Code 23152(f)?
Any drug that can impair someone’s ability to drive is covered by Vehicle Code 23152(f).
This includes illicit drugs such as:
- cocaine, and
It also includes prescription drugs such as:
It even includes over-the-counter drugs such as:
- cold medicine,
- allergy medicine like antihistamines, and
- sleeping pills.
The statute also covers DUI of marijuana.
All that matters is that it impairs the driver’s ability to drive safely.1 It is not a defense that the suspect was entitled to use the drug.2
2. Is there a legal limit?
Unlike driving under the influence of alcohol, there is no per se legal limit for DUI involving drugs.3
3. How do police make a DUID case?
Without a standard legal limit, police have a great deal of discretion as to when they make arrests for drugged driving. Officers can arrest drivers they suspect of being under the influence of drugs. Typically, a drug recognition expert (DRE) is brought in to conduct an investigation. Drug recognition experts are police officers with special training in the signs of drug impairment. Their investigation involves:
- field sobriety tests (FSTs),
- taking the driver’s vital signs,
- noting objective symptoms of intoxication, and
- interviewing the driver.
Law enforcement can also require the driver to provide a urine or blood test (chemical test). Breath tests (breathalyzers) cannot detect drugs, only blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
4. What does it mean to “drive a vehicle”?
Vehicle Code 23152(f) can only be violated if the suspect was driving a vehicle.
A person drives a vehicle by intentionally using physical control to make it move.4 The engine does not need to be on, though the vehicle still has to move.5 Police can use circumstantial evidence if they did not see it move.6
A vehicle is anything that moves on a highway, unless it is propelled by a person.7 Examples of a vehicle include:
- E-scooters or E-bikes,
- motorized wheelchairs, and
- horse-drawn carriages.
Vehicles do not include:
- trains or trolleys,
- skateboards, and
- manual wheelchairs.
5. What are some examples?
- Driving while hallucinating from taking LSD,
- Using prescribed medical marijuana and then driving to work, and
- Pulling to the side of the road to sleep off the influence of a drug.8
6. Are there related offenses?
There are several related offenses to VC 23152(f). They include:
- drunk driving (Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC). Driving under the influence of alcohol is a more common type of DUI case.
- driving under the combined influence of drugs and alcohol (Vehicle Code 23152g VC)
- possession of a controlled substance (Health and Safety Code 11350 HS). If police find drugs in the car, the driver can face charges for drug possession.
7. What defenses can I assert?
Drivers accused of drugged driving can raise legal DUI defenses. The most common ones that California DUI lawyers use include:
- there was no probable cause for the DUI traffic stop,
- the driver was not impaired at the time of the arrest, and
- innocent explanations for signs of drug impairment.
8. What are the penalties for a conviction?
The penalties for a DUI conviction under 23152(f) VC can be a misdemeanor offense or a felony. It will depend on several factors, including:
- whether the driver has prior DUI convictions,
- whether there were aggravating factors in the arrest, and
- whether the arrest came after a crash.
A first violation DUI can carry:
- up to 6 months in county jail
- up to 5 years of probation
- a driver’s license suspension
- DUI school
- fines of up to $390 to $1000 plus penalty assessment.
Note that most courts will impose little or no actual jail time for the first offense with no aggravating circumstances.
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- California Criminal Jury Instructions 2110 (“A drug is a substance or combination of substances, other than alcohol, that could so affect the nervous system, brain, or muscles of a person that it would appreciably impair his or her ability to drive as an ordinarily cautious person, in full possession of his or her faculties and using reasonable care, would drive under similar circumstances”). Drugged driving arrests have even been made in California for driving under the influence of coffee (A.J. Willingham, “A DUI for caffeine? DA makes decision in strange case,” CNN (December 29. 2016)).
- California Vehicle Code 23630.
- See National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Drug-Impaired Driving: Understanding the Problem and Ways to Reduce It—A Report to Congress,” (“[A]t the current time, specific drug concentration levels cannot be reliably equated with effects on driver performance”).
- California Criminal Jury Instructions 2241 (“A person drives a vehicle when he or she intentionally causes it to move by exercising actual physical control over it. The person must cause the vehicle to move, but the movement may be slight”). See also Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles, 809 P.2d 404 (Cal. 1991).
- People v. Hernandez, 219 Cal.App.3d 1177 (Cal. App. 1990).
- People v. Wilson, 176 Cal.App.3d Supp. 1 (Cal. App. 1985) (the DUI suspect was the only person in a car parked with its engine running on the side of a freeway).
- California Vehicle Code section 670 (“A ‘vehicle’ is a device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks”).
- People v. Wilson, Supra.