San Diego DUI Law Center


DUIs with Passengers Present


California Law

A question that often comes up, in the event of a DUI offense with passengers present, is if the passenger(s) can face DUI charges too. It is important to note, that in California, the law states that one can only face DUI charges if that individual is physically operating a motor vehicle, during which they are under the influence of either drugs or alcohol or both. Thus, in California, if the passenger involved in a DUI is intoxicated, it does not directly put them in any immediate danger of a criminal offense, if they were not physically operating the vehicle.



While being a passenger during the time of a DUI offense does not generally affect the individual, it is standard practice that the party will face some questioning at the scene. In some cases, there is a possibility the officer(s) will measure the passenger’s sobriety in the field. In measuring the passenger’s sobriety, the officer may be trying to determine if the party, who was not operating the vehicle, is fit to drive the vehicle home from the scene.

While passengers are not generally the focal point of a DUI offense, there are some instances where a passenger can be implicated in a DUI criminal offense.


Who Operated the Vehicle

While it is usually fairly obvious who is operating the vehicle in the event of a DUI offense, there are certain instances where an officer may have reason to question the party responsible for operating the vehicle. One of those instances is in the event of a DUI collision or crash. In the event of a DUI collision or crash, it can be more difficult to pinpoint who the driver was exactly as it leaves a time gap in between the collision and when officers arrive on the scene. This can potentially give the party at fault time to get out of the vehicle before the officers get there. In the event that the collision is fatal, there is a chance individuals involved can be displaced from the vehicle involuntarily, making it difficult for an officer to soundly pinpoint which party was operating the vehicle.

Another instance which can cause some speculation about the driver in a DUI offense, is in an instance where an officer believes the passenger to have helped drive and/or steady the wheel. While California law states that one can only face DUI charges if that individual is physically operating a motor vehicle, it also states that the individual in control of the vehicle is responsible for operating it. While helping drive and/or steady the vehicle is not illegal on its own, doing so while also intoxicated is. However, in most instances, determining who the driver was at the time of the DUI offense is usually easily determinable with a quick investigation.


Underage Drinking

While not a DUI charge, another common charge passengers involved in a DUI offense face is underage drinking and/or underage possession of alcohol. A passenger facing an underage drinking and/or an underage possession of alcohol charge will face the same consequences as if the party were to obtain the charge outside of a DUI offense. These consequences can be up to $250 in fines, a license suspension, and more, depending on the specific circumstances of the offense.


Minor Passenger

While a driver already faces penalties for a DUI offense, those penalties may be enhanced if the driver is found to be under the influence with a minor (under 14 years old) present in the vehicle. On top of additional penalties, a driver facing a DUI offense with a minor present, may also face child endangerment penalties, which in California can be a misdemeanor of felony offense.



In order to avoid finding yourself in a situation of a DUI with a passenger, it is important to take extra precautions when in situations involving alcohol consumption and having to travel somewhere. However, if you happen to find yourself in the unfortunate situation of a DUI involving a passenger(s) in the greater San Diego, contact Rick Mueller, San Diego DUI specialist immediately. Rick Mueller, is a California DUI Lawyers Association Specialist, who has the experience and track record, to get you the best possible outcome for your specific situation, today!


DUIs with Passengers Present

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