What Do I Do If I Get Stopped for a DUI in California?

cop car with lights on at night

There are certain steps you can take if you get stopped for driving under the influence in California, including staying calm and taking the right steps. 

The mere three-letter combination —DUI — can induce a shudder of fear or a complete loss of hope. Getting convicted of a driving under the influence charge can mean skyrocketing auto insurance rates and the need to get SR-22 insurance (more on that later), for starters. 

But no matter how it turns out, you really can get your life back to normal, and perhaps even sooner than you ever thought possible. Let’s break down how you should respond to this serious (and pricey) legal charge. 

Be Proactive Before Getting Pulled Over for DUI in California 

Here are a few steps you might take before that scary DUI charge. Take this advice to heart and you might avoid getting pulled over in the first place. 

First, avoid drinking when you’re going to be operating your vehicle. It could take a whole lot less than endlessly bending your elbow on a tavern tour of your Golden State hometown to blow a blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, that will get you in trouble. So it’s best not to drink and drive at all. 

You can be arrested for a BAC of at least 0.08% if you’re over 21 or just 0.01% if you’re a minor. If you already have a DUI conviction under your belt, a BAC of just 0.01% will get you charged again, regardless of your age. 

Depending on a variety of factors, including your sex, weight, experience with alcohol, how quickly you drank, and whether or not you did it on a full or empty stomach, your BAC could reach problematic levels after only a couple of drinks. What that means is that you might be at risk as a driver even if you’re not really feeling your consumption. 

For that reason, always drink slowly when you’re going to be driving afterward. Accompany your consumption with a meal, and — most importantly of all — be sure you have a designated driver if you have even the slightest concerns about over-imbibing. 

Don’t Panic if You Get Pulled Over in California 

Easier said than done, right? Pullover and do all that you’re told to do by the law enforcement officer. Provide proof of insurance, your driver’s license, and answers to any questions. Stay calm and courteous, but don’t communicate with the traffic officer more than you have to in the situation. 

Then, as soon as you are able, call a lawyer. 

Know What You’re Up Against in California 

The penalty for a DUI in California can range from a suspended sentence, if it’s your first time, to stiff jail time as a repeat offender. But that’s only the beginning. Your driver’s license will be suspended, and then there’s the cost of hiring an attorney and paying court costs and related expenses. 

It might be possible to get a restricted driver’s license after 30 days’ suspension of your license if, for instance, you must have your car to keep your job. With your restricted license, you can only drive in pre-approved circumstances. 

DUI documents with gavel and folder

How Much Does a DUI in California Cost? 

The real cost of a California DUI is a shocking $25,000 to $50,000 on average. Once you add in everything that goes along with a DUI conviction, including fines, court-ordered alcohol treatment, license suspension, vehicle impoundment, bail, higher car insurance costs, court fees and more, the real cost of a DUI in California is difficult to comprehend. 

It depends on the circumstances and if it is a first-time DUI conviction versus a third-time conviction, but the real cost of a California DUI makes it clear that it is an event to be avoided. 

Get an SR-22 and Follow All Legal Requirements 

An SR-22 is a signed document that your auto insurance company will help you file with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. It lets you drive with the state’s assurance that you have at least the minimum liability auto insurance coverage. This will cover the costs of another driver or passengers if you’re found to be responsible for a car accident. 

You’ll also have to enroll in a DUI education course. At a minimum, this will consist of 30 hours of instruction over a three-month period: 12 hours of general education, 18 hours of group counseling, and three hours of one-on-one counseling. The program might be longer and more involved if your BAC was particularly high, or if you were convicted as a minor or are a repeat DUI offender. There’s a fee for this mandatory program, but it might be waived if you can show you’re unable to pay. 

And finally, you might be mandated to have a Smart Start Ignition Interlock Device (IID) installed on your car for a period of time after your suspension has been lifted. The device is wired into your ignition system so that you must first breathe into it to prove that you have a legal BAC before the car will start. You’ll also have to breathe into the IID periodically while behind the wheel to show you’re not drinking while driving or that you got someone to help you start the car. The device must be installed within 21 days of receiving your DUI sentence. 

Take Comfort Knowing Your Situation Will Improve Over Time 

Your DUI conviction will result in car insurance companies labeling you as a high-risk driver, which means that some carriers will charge you much higher rates while others could refuse you coverage at any price. 

However, your situation will improve from that low point. Points will eventually fall off your driving record as long as you drive carefully and don’t re-offend. 

With that, your auto insurance agent will be able to help you find coverage that’s much more affordable. 

Contact Cost-U-Less Today for DUI Car Insurance 

Do all you can to avoid getting a DUI. But if it does happen, Cost-U-Less can help you file an SR-22, find the most affordable auto insurance coverage, and get you back on your feet as soon and as cost-efficiently as possible. 

Call Cost-U-Less at (800) 390-4071 or get a quick car insurance quote online. We’ll also help you find a convenient California office location so you can schedule a face-to-face meeting with one of our auto insurance agents.