California Traffic Laws: When is a DUI Considered a Felony?

Drunk driving is considered a serious offense across America. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that there were a total number of 32,719 alcohol-related traffic fatalities for 2013 nationwide. Considering the high rate these accidents occur, it’s easy to why drunk driving is often met with harsh punishment. Even as policies vary from state to state, anyone charged with driving under the influence (DUI) can expect to meet some pretty steep penalties. In California, for example, certain circumstances involving drunk driving violations can be charged with a felony.

According to California traffic laws, an individual operating a vehicle with blood alcohol content (BAC) that exceeds a specific level can be charged and later convicted with a DUI. The first three DUI offenses are often considered misdemeanors. A DUI arrest becomes a felony when the driver involved commits a fourth offense within the span of 10 years or causes vehicular homicide. A DUI can also be considered a felony if it involves other traffic violations such as reckless driving.

Similar to most states in America, California DUI laws mandate that private individuals are not allowed to drive with a BAC level of 0.08 percent or higher. The rules are more stringent for drivers of commercial vehicles—having a BAC level at or above 0.04 percent is illegal. Meanwhile, driving with a BAC level above 0.01 percent for anyone younger than 21 will merit and DUI charge.

Penalties for a felony DUI will depend on the circumstances of an arrest. If the incident is proven to have caused personal injury, the defendant will have to undergo a restitution hearing and pay a specified amount to cover damages. Meanwhile, a driver proven to have committed a fourth DUI offense within 10 years could end up facing a maximum of 180 days in jail, up to $1,000 in fines, and a four-year license suspension.

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