Can a Passenger Get a DUI in California?


In California, you cannot be arrested for DUI for being a passenger in a motor vehicle that is driven by an intoxicated motorist. However, there are a few circumstances where it is possible a passenger can be charged with drunk driving or another criminal offense.

The Passenger Steers the Vehicle at Any Point of the Ride

According to state law, if a person touches the steering wheel or gains control over a vehicle, that type of action is considered “driving.” For example, if a passenger is under the influence and helps steer the vehicle, he/she could be charged with a DUI since he/she was intoxicated and technically “drove” the car.

The Passenger Switches Seats with a Drunk Driver

If an intoxicated motorist switches seats with a passenger before an officer walks up to the vehicle after pulling it over, then the new “passenger” can be arrested for drunk driving. Unless the new “driver” is sober, both individuals could be charged with a DUI.

The Officer Isn’t Sure Who was Driving

This type of situation often occurs when a vehicle is either involved in a crash, was already parked prior to the law enforcement official’s arrival, or on the side of the roadway. The officer would then have to determine which person at the scene of the suspected DUI were driving. It is not uncommon for the police to make a mistake.

The following are the other criminal charges a passenger may face:

  • Underage drinking – If an intoxicated passenger is under 21 years of age, he/she may be charged with underage drinking, which carries a maximum $250 fine, driver’s license suspension for up to a one year, and up to 32 hours of community service.
  • Minor in possession of alcohol – If an underage passenger is in possession of alcohol in any public place, he/she will be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by the same penalties as underage drinking.
  • Public intoxication – If a passenger is intoxicated by alcohol, he/she could be charged with public drunkenness, which is a misdemeanor that results in a maximum 12-month jail sentence and a fine no more than $1,000 upon conviction.
  • Drug possession – If a passenger is in possession of an illegal drug, he/she will be charged with drug possession, which is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum one-year jail term and a fine not exceeding $1,000.

If you have been charged with a DUI as a passenger in Santa Rosa, contact the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. today at (707) 418-5352 and schedule a free consultation to learn about your available legal options.

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