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DUI by Ride-Sharing Driver - Vehicle Code 23152(e) VC

California Vehicle Code 23152(e) VC defines the DUI "per se" law for taxi, limo, and ride-sharing drivers. These motorists are prohibited by law from driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .04% or higher while a paying passenger is in the vehicle.

This law makes the legal limit for ride-sharing drivers the same as for commercial drivers in California. In contrast, California has a legal limit of .08% BAC for most drivers aged 21 and over. The .04% legal limit for ride-sharing drivers also applies under California Vehicle Code 23153(e) DUI causing injury law.

DUI by Ride-Sharing Driver - California Vehicle Code 23152(e) VC
VC 23152(e) is the DUI law for taxi, limo, and ride-sharing drivers of BAC of .04% or higher.

In July 2018, California implemented a significant change to its DUI laws by lowering the measuring standards by which "passenger-for-hire" drivers (e.g., taxi, limo, Uber, Lyft) can be charged with DUI.

The law distinguishes these drivers by lowering their legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit to 0.04% while on duty. This change is codified in Vehicle Code 23152(e) VC, commonly referred to as "passenger for hire DUI," "DUI by ride-sharing driver," or "DUI per se."

VC 23152(e) says, "Commencing July 1, 2018, it shall be unlawful for a person who has 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in their blood to drive a motor vehicle when a passenger for hire is a passenger in the car at the time of the offense.

For purposes of this subdivision, "passenger for hire" means a passenger for whom consideration is contributed or expected as a condition of carriage in the vehicle, whether directly or indirectly flowing to the owner, operator, agent, or any other person interested in the vehicle.

In a prosecution under this subdivision, it is a rebuttable presumption that the person had 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood at the time of driving the vehicle if the person had 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood at the time of the performance of a chemical test within three hours after the driving."

If you are charged with DUI under this standard while transporting passengers for hire, the consequences can be severe. You could face penalties, including fines, jail time, and possible license suspension. Moreover, you could also lose your employment as a ride-sharing driver.

What Does the Law Say?

VC 23153(e) VC sets forth California's "per se" DUI law for ride-sharing drivers. If you meet or exceed the applicable DUI per se "legal limit" of .04%, it does not matter whether your driving is impaired.

You will be deemed under the influence even if you are actually driving fine. The driving ability of many people is not significantly impaired at .04 BAC.

Under VC 23152(e), any driver transporting passengers for compensation faces criminal charges if caught with a BAC of 0.04% or higher.

This is true even if the driver shows no visible signs of intoxication, as many people don't at this low BAC level. This threshold aims to ensure greater safety for passengers using commercial transportation services with higher safety expectations.

The lowered BAC standards of VC 23152(e) apply to all the following drivers while on duty:

  • Taxi drivers.
  • Limo drivers carrying ten passengers or fewer.
  • Ride-sharing drivers (via app-based ride-sharing platforms like Uber or Lyft)

What is a "Passenger for Hire"

A "passenger for hire" is any individual who is expected to pay for the transportation services of the driver, whether directly to the driver or indirectly to the company under which the driver operates.

Drivers are considered "on duty" when actively carrying passengers or logged into their ride-sharing apps, indicating their availability. The 0.08% BAC standard still applies to ride-sharing drivers who are off-duty.

What are the Implications of the Lower BAC Limit?

Reducing the legal BAC limit for ride-sharing drivers underscores California's commitment to road safety, especially in the burgeoning gig economy where ride-sharing services play an increasing role in transportation.

Drivers working with companies like Uber and Lyft must be even more vigilant about their alcohol consumption before and during work hours. A BAC reading of just 0.04%, roughly equivalent to one or two drinks for most people, has severe legal consequences.

What are the Penalties for Violating VC 23152(e)?

The penalties for violating California's "passenger for hire" DUI law are similar to those for standard DUIs but may be exacerbated due to the perceived higher responsibility. Penalties may include:

  • Fines: Depending on the circumstances, convicted drivers can face fines of $390 to $1,000.
  • Jail Time: First-time offenders can receive up to 6 months under this law. Repeat offenders face potentially longer incarceration periods.
  • License Suspension/DUI School: The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may suspend the driver's license for at least six months, with longer suspensions possible for subsequent offenses. The suspension may also require attending a state-approved "DUI school" course for 3-9 months, extending to up to 30 months for repeat offenses.
  • Probation: Drivers may be on probation for three to five years.
  • Criminal Restitution: Drivers may be required to compensate injured parties for their losses.

Additional Consequences

In addition to the above, drivers for hire who are convicted of DUI may experience the following consequences:

  • Required IID Device: In some cases, the DMV may allow a convicted driver to continue driving with a restricted license and an ignition interlock device (IID) installed in the vehicle.
  • Loss of Employment: Under California law, ride-sharing companies aren't allowed to hire anyone convicted of DUI within the past seven years. Thus, a DUI will likely disqualify the driver from earning a living as a driver for hire.

What are the Common Defenses?

Facing a passenger-for-hire DUI charge can be daunting, but a skilled California criminal defense attorney may employ several defense strategies to challenge the prosecution's case. Some common defenses:

  • Improper Breathalyzer Calibration or Testing Procedures: If law enforcement fails to calibrate breathalyzer devices or follow standardized procedures properly, the BAC results may be inaccurate.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions can mimic signs of intoxication or cause false BAC readings, such as acid reflux or diabetes.
  • Field Sobriety Test (FST) Inaccuracy: Field sobriety tests are subjective and can yield false positives due to nerves, fatigue, or medical issues.
  • Improper Stop or Arrest: If the initial traffic stop or arrest was conducted without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, it might be possible to have the evidence dismissed.
  • Not On-Duty: If the driver can prove they were not operating in a passenger-for-hire capacity during the arrest, they may escape the lower BAC limit's applicability.

Contact our California criminal defense law firm for more information. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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