DUI by Uber Lyft, Taxi or Limo Drivers
[CA Vehicle Code 23152(e)]

Vehicle Code 23152(e) sets forth California's DUI “per se” law for taxi, limo and ride-sharing drivers.

Effective July 1, 2018, such drivers will be considered under the influence when:

  1. They drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .04% or higher, and
  2. A paying passenger is in the vehicle.

The new law makes the “legal limit” for ride-sharing drivers the same as for commercial drivers in California.1 It contrasts with California's legal limit of .08% BAC for most drivers age 21 and over.

The .04% legal limit for California ride-sharing drivers will also apply under California Vehicle Code 23153(e) – DUI causing injury

Until the new law takes effect, California's .08% legal limit will continue to apply to taxi, limo and ride-sharing drivers.

When is a ride-sharing driver deemed to be under the influence?

As of July 1, 2018, a taxi, limo or ride-sharing driver is considered “under the influence” in California if:

  • The driver's physical or mental abilities are impaired to the extent that he or she can no longer drive as well as a cautious sober person,2 or 
  • The driver's “blood alcohol content” (BAC) exceeds:
    • .04% if paying passengers are in the vehicle, or 
    • .08% at other times,3

BAC levels are determined by a DUI breath test or DUI blood test given after a lawful arrest and within three (3) hours of driving.4

Penalties for DUI by ride-sharing drivers

The following chart summarizes the basic criminal penalties for a non-injury California DUI:5 

Type of California DUI Imprisonment and/or Fine

1st offense misdemeanor DUI

Up to 6 months

$390-1000

2nd offense misdemeanor DUI

96 hrs.-1 year

$390-1000

3rd offense misdemeanor DUI

120 days-1 year

$390-1000

Felony DUI

16 mos.-3 years $390-1000

DUI with injury (misdemeanor)

5 days - 1 year

$390-5000*

DUI with injury (felony)

16 mos.-16 years

$1015-5000*

  *Plus possible criminal restitution to injured parties.

DMV license suspension for ride-sharing DUI

In addition to (or instead of) court-imposed criminal penalties for DUI, the California DMV may impose:

These administrative penalties are indicated in the following chart:

Type of California DUI

Term of Suspension / Revocation & DUI School

1st offense misdemeanor DUI

6 to 10 months, plus

3 or 9 months DUI school

2nd offense misdemeanor DUI

2 years suspension, plus

18 or 30 months DUI school

3rd offense misdemeanor DUI

3 years, plus

30 months DUI school

DUI with injury (misdemeanor)

1 to 3 years, plus

3, 18 or 30 months DUI school

DUI with injury (felony)

5 years, plus

18 or 30 months

Felony DUI

4 years, plus

18 or 30 months

Legal defenses to DUI by Uber or Lyft drivers

Legal defenses for ride-sharing drivers charged with California DUI can include (but are not limited to):

  • The driver was not carrying a paying passenger;
  • The police did not follow proper procedures when they stopped or arrested the driver;
  • The police did not follow proper procedures in administering the DUI breath test or DUI blood test; or
  • There were laboratory errors that made the DUI chemical test results unreliable.

To help you better understand DUI by Uber and Lyft drivers, our California criminal defense lawyers discuss, below:

young man in suit behind wheel of vehicle with welcoming expression

1. Who does California Vehicle Code 23152(e) apply to?

Vehicle Code 23152(e) applies to drivers who have a “passenger for hire” in the vehicle at the time of the offense. A “passenger for hire” is someone who is expected to pay for the ride as a condition of being driven, including:

  • Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing passengers;
  • Taxi passengers; and
  • Passengers in limousines with fewer than 10 people in the vehicle (including the driver).6

The compensation need not be paid directly to the driver. A passenger is "for hire" if:

  • Money is paid to a company (for instance, through the Uber or Lyft app), or
  • Compensation is given directly to the driver in the form of cash, a credit card or otherwise.7

Note that "passenger for hire" does not include passengers in carpools or rides in which friends simply contribute gas money for the trip. 

2. Vehicle Code 23152(e) - California's “DUI per se” law for ride-sharing drivers

Vehicle Code 23152(e) sets forth California's “per se” DUI law for ride-sharing drivers. “Per se” is a Latin term meaning “of itself.”

If a driver meets or exceeds the applicable California DUI per se "legal limit," it does not matter whether his or her driving is actually impaired. The driver will be deemed under the influence even if he or she is actually driving fine.

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the driving ability of many people is not significantly impaired at .04 BAC.8

California's various DUI “per se” legal limits are indicated in the following chart:

Type of Driver (CA Vehicle Code §) CA Legal BAC Limit

Adult driver, non-commercial vehicle

(including off-duty Uber/Lyft drivers)

(Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC)

.08%

On-duty Uber or Lyft drivers

(Vehicle Code 23152 (e) VC)

04%

(beginning July 1, 2018)

Taxi and limo drivers while in their taxi/limo

(Vehicle Code 23152 (e) VC)

04%

(beginning July 1, 2018)

Driver of commercial vehicle (while in commercial vehicle)

(Vehicle Code 23152(d) VC)

.04%

Driver under 21*

(Vehicle Code 23140 VC)

.05%

*California also has a “zero-tolerance” law with a limit of .01% for underage drivers.

(Vehicle Code 23136 VC)

 

2.1. Why is the legal limit for ride-sharing drivers being changed?

California DUI law currently treats ride-sharing drivers the same way as any other driver. California's legal limit for adult drivers (21 and over) of non-commercial vehicles is .08%.9

But “commercial drivers” are subject to a stricter .04% legal limit for alcohol in California. Lowering the legal limit for alcohol to .04% essentially makes taxi, limo and ride-sharing drivers into commercial drivers when a paying passenger is in the vehicle.

According to the California District Attorneys Association, which sponsored the change in the law:

"Taxi drivers and drivers for hire… present an increased risk to public safety when driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs while carrying passengers for hire… This behavior also violates their passengers' trust that they will be able to get their passengers safely from point A to point B, despite the frequency with which we encourage the use of these alternatives to drinking and driving."10 

2.2. Does having a BAC of less than .04% prove the driver was not impaired?

No. Having a BAC of less than .04% is not proof that a driver was not impaired.

California's DUI laws prohibit people from driving if they are not able to drive safely due to any amount of alcohol and/or drugs in their system).11 

man in suit being given DUI field sobriety test by police officer

3. Penalties for DUI by Uber or Lyft drivers

DUI penalties for ride-sharing drivers under Vehicle Code 23152(e) are the same as for “regular” DUIs. A first DUI offense is a California misdemeanor that can be punished by:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of $390-$1000.

The driver may also face an administrative DUI license suspension hearing at the California DMV.

For a further discussion of the possible consequences of a DUI, please see our article "California DUI Penalties, Punishments and Sentencing."

3.1. Will a DUI driver lose the right to drive for Uber or Lyft?

By law, taxi, limo and ride-sharing companies may not employ a driver who has been convicted of a DUI within the prior seven (7) years.12

This makes fighting a DUI especially important for someone who drives passengers for a living.

4. Legal defenses to DUI by taxi, limo or ride-sharing drivers

Legal defenses to Vehicle Code 23152(e) charges fall into three primary categories:

  • The driver did not have a passenger for hire in the vehicle;
  • The traffic stop or arrest was unlawful; and/or
  • Procedures for administering the DUI breath test or DUI blood test did not comply with Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations.

For an in-depth discussion on these and other defenses, please see our article on "20 Ways to Beat a California DUI."

4.1. “Dry reckless” as a plea bargain to DUI charges

One way a ride-sharing driver might avoid the consequences of a DUI conviction is with a California “dry reckless” plea bargain. “Dry reckless” is another name for a violation of California Vehicle Code 23103 VC. VC 23103(a) provides:

"A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving."

Although a conviction for dry reckless driving can result in jail time, it does not involve an admission of alcohol and/or drug use. Advantages of a dry reckless plea include:

  • A shorter possible jail sentence,
  • A shorter probation period, 
  • Lower total fines,
  • No mandatory driver's license suspension,
  • Won't disqualify driver from working as a taxi, limo or ride-sharing driver, and
  • Won't increase penalties if the driver is arrested for DUI again in the future.

Charged with a DUI in California? Call us for help…

female receptionist

If you were accused of a DUI with a paying passenger in the vehicle, we invite you to contact our California DUI defense lawyers for a free consultation.

Call us at 855-LAWFIRM or complete the form on this page to discuss your case in confidence with a lawyer.

It is possible to fight a ride-sharing DUI in California -- even when a chemical test "proves" that you were drunk.


Legal references:

  1. California Vehicle Code 23152(d) VC.
  2. Vehicle Code 23152(a) [due to alcohol], (f) [due to drugs] or (g) [due to a combination of alcohol and drugs].
  3. Vehicle Code 23152(e) [when paying passenger is in the vehicle] or (b) [California's "regular" adult DUI per se law].
  4. Vehicle Code 23152(e).
  5. The penalties listed here are set forth in California's main DUI penalty laws: Vehicle Code sections 23536, 23540, 23646, and 23566.
  6. Vehicle Code 23152(e). See also Vehicle Code 15278 VC – Vehicles for which a commercial driver's license is required.
  7. Same.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Impaired Driving: Get the Facts; See also Medicine.net Alcohol Impairment Chart.

  9. Vehicle Code 23152(b)

  10. See Bill Analysis of AB 2687 by California Senate Committee on Public Safety, June 28, 2016.

  11.  Vehicle Code 23152(a).

  12. California Public Utilities Code 5445.2 (a)(3).

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