What happens when you refuse a breath test in California?

If you choose to climb behind the wheel of a vehicle after spending a night out on the town, you run the risk of getting pulled over by a California law enforcement officer. In order to evaluate a driver’s blood alcohol content level, the officer may ask you to submit to a roadside breath test. Breath tests measure the amount of alcohol that is present in a breath sample and converts that amount to a blood alcohol content level. Drivers who are found to have elevated BAC levels that read over the legal limit of 0.08 percent may be arrested and charged with a DUI. These charges come with a number of serious repercussions, including fines, driver’s license suspension and possible jail time.

When you receive your driver’s license, you agree to submit to a urine, blood or breath test if a law officer asks you to do so, according to the State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. You must perform the test when and where the officer asks and are not permitted to speak with an attorney beforehand. Despite these terms, an officer cannot physically force you to submit a breath sample and you can refuse to participate in the test. However, it is important that you know the consequences of refusing a breath test. Even if you are not driving with a BAC level that is at or above the legal limit, you will be arrested for refusing to submit to a breath test. In addition, your driver’s license will be revoked and suspended immediately for a specific period of time.  

This information is intended for educational purposes and should not be taken as legal advice.

Understanding ignition interlock device laws in California

When people are charged with a DUI in California, they may be required to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicles. Although these drunk driving monitors may cost the convicted drunk driver a substantial amount of money, the devices give DUI offenders the ability to continue driving to essential destinations, such as school, work and doctors’ appointments. These drivers may otherwise be unable to operate a vehicle on a suspended driver’s license and run the risk of getting additional citations.

Interlock devices are breath test machines that are installed in the ignition system of the vehicle. Before the driver can start the car, he or she must blow into a tube connected to the device. The ignition interlock device then determines the driver’s blood alcohol content level, and will only allow the car to start if the BAC level is below a preset level. The driver must continue to blow periodic breath samples while driving in order to keep the car going. The devices record critical data, including startup attempts, BAC levels and whether the machine has been tampered with.

In 2010, California started a pilot program, which required all convicted drunk drivers in four counties to have an ignition interlock device installed. Once the device is installed by a state-approved company, the driver must have it maintained every 60 days. During the maintenance appointments, the device is calibrated and checked to make sure that it is working properly. Furthermore, all of the information is transferred to officials, who can then use the information to determine whether the offender must use the IID for a longer period of time.

5 penalties of drunk driving in California

Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve parties are on the horizon. While you might be tempted to consume alcohol at these parties, your best option for avoiding drunk driving charges is to either avoid those drinks or find a designated driver to bring you home. If you end up leaving a holiday party after drinking and you get pulled over, you will start going down the path of facing DUI charges in California. You should think about these five penalties of drunk driving in California before you start the ignition after the party.

Driver’s license suspension

One of the most life-altering effects of being caught driving drunk in California is the driver’s license suspension. You are facing a minimum of four months without your driver’s license if you opted to take the chemical test when requested and this is your first DUI. If you didn’t take that test, you are facing a year without your license if it was a first offense. The suspension terms increase with each subsequent DUI, so remember this if you have already been convicted of a DUI and are thinking of driving drunk again.

Fines and assessments

The fines for drunk driving in this state are astronomical. For a first offense, you face almost $2,000 in fines and assessments. A second DUI within a 10-year period would increase the fines and assessment total to around $18,000. Without your ability to drive since your license will almost certainly be suspended, you might find it difficult to pay these costs.


Even on a first offense, you will spend time in jail. That first offense comes with 48 hours in jail. A second offense within 10 years could land you in prison for 16 months. The period of incarceration can increase from there with each subsequent offense. You might also see increased incarceration periods if you are charged with an excessive blood-alcohol concentration percentage, which is .16 percent or above.

Social stigma

The social stigma of a DUI is something that is hard to overcome. The mere charge can mean that your car insurance increases. You might not be able to work if your job requires a clean driving record. These can make it hard for you to have a social life at all.

Other penalties

California law allows a vehicle to be confiscated. If you are facing your third DUI, you must have an ignition interlock installed on your vehicle once you are legally able to drive again. You may be required undergo alcohol education classes, an alcohol treatment program, or a combination of both. Other penalties might also be imposed by the court.

Does adding points to licenses when drivers speed actually work?

Here in California and across the U.S., the most common way we try to get drivers to obey traffic laws is to punish them with points on their driver’s licenses. It’s simple enough: Accumulate enough points and your license could be suspended, or even revoked. The idea is to give drivers a way to see how traffic and speeding offenses affect their driving privileges. Racking up points can make your insurance rates jump. Suspensions and revocations get repeat offenders off the road.

A demerit points system like ours is based on the idea that negative consequences affect behavior. That may be true, but when it comes to points on driver’s licenses, it isn’t that straightforward.

According to a 2010 study in the European Transport Research Review, point systems may not have any measurable impact on speeding — but they do serve to pad insurance company balance sheets.

The study was performed on the United Arab Emirates, which passed a demerit point system for its drivers in 2008. A safety planner at the UAE’s Department of Municipal Affairs and Transport initiated the study, which examined driving patterns in the city of Al Ain, which has a population of approximately 500,000.

Three months before the point system took effect and then three months afterward, researchers checked speeds on three main roads during free-flow conditions. The idea was to test the impact of the UAE’s point system, in which accumulating 24 points in a year results in a license suspension and a month-long impoundment of the vehicle, with additional penalties for more.

“Spot speed data for before and after samples were divided into various classes and then the frequency distributions of these classes were compared separately for SUVs, sedans, and both types of vehicles,” explained the safety planner. “The analysis revealed that the demerit points system has no significant effect on the speeding behavior of drivers.”

It’s not entirely clear whether the results would have been different if more tickets had been issued. It’s also not clear whether the results are peculiar to the driving culture of Al Ain.

What we do know is that insurance companies have long pressed the point of view that point systems deter speeding and other traffic offenses, and that lawmakers have simply gone along. If demerit points don’t have a demonstrable impact on driver behavior, are they justified?

Study: Safety benefits of traffic cameras dubious in San Francisco

When red light and speeding ticket cameras were first available, it must have seemed like a quick and easy solution to a serious public safety issue. Instead of having to improve roadway engineering or hire additional traffic patrol officers, all cities would have to do was install cameras. Even better, the cameras could be installed and monitored by vendors, who could even issue the tickets.

The problem, of course, is that quick and easy solutions often turn out to be slow and difficult in the long run.

Redflex, a major provider of photo enforcement systems, has been plagued by bribery and corruption scandals. As for Xerox, which provides for-profit ticket processing services across the state, things aren’t going well, either. The California Supreme Court just ruled that Los Angeles’s longstanding parking ticket contract with Xerox is illegal. Even in parking ticket cases, defendants have the right to have their cases tried by a legally authorized state tribunal — not a profit-making third party.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency reports no clear safety benefits

Opponents argue that photo enforcement, especially when done by for-profit companies, violates drivers’ civil rights. Some supporters of cameras claim they are necessary to reduce the number of devastating broadside collisions in intersections. Would clear evidence if improved safety be enough to overcome the civil liberty concerns? Maybe, but we don’t have to wonder.

The safety benefits are not clear. In its annual report, the SFMTA found essentially no evidence that red light cameras improved safety at all.

For one thing, several of the intersections where cameras were installed had no history of broadside collisions. Instead, they seemed to have been chosen for the potential number of red light tickets that could be churned out.

At intersections that did have a history of broadsides, the agency found that the installation of the cameras had a very short-term benefit, at best. In one case the agency called out, broadside collisions leaped immediately from 5 to 9 when the cameras were installed.

The SFMTA doesn’t claim that installing the cameras is actually dangerous. Instead, the agency concludes that they make no measurable difference to the safety of the intersection.

What does improve safety, the agency found, is improving the intersection’s engineering. Relocating the signal poles, changing them to overhead mast-arm signals where appropriate, installing pedestrian signals and increasing the length of yellow lights were all shown to be effective.

If you get cited by a traffic camera, don’t give up. Real help is available.