Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

California Vehicle Code 23152(f)

A charge of driving under the influence can involve alcohol, drugs or both.

California Vehicle Code 23152(f) makes it a crime to drive under the influence of drugs.

Driving under the influence of drugs occurs when the drugs impair the driver to the point that he/she can no longer drive like a sober driver under similar circumstances.

If you drive under the influence of any drug, whether prescription or illegal, you subject yourself to prosecution for DUI.

Difference Between DUI Alcohol & Driving Under The Influence Of Drugs

The biggest difference between a DUI involving alcohol and DUI involving drugs is how the offenses are investigated.

How Is A Drug DUI Investigated?

A drug DUI investigation involves the use of a drug recognition expert (“DRE”).

A DRE is a police officer trained to recognize impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to, alcohol1.

field sobriety test touch your nose

Studies have demonstrated that a properly trained DRE can successfully identify drug impairment and accurately determine the category of drugs causing such impairment.

How Does A DRE Test For Drugs?

Pursuant to his/her training, a DRE has several tests that can be given to investigate the presence of drugs.

The DRE will look at your behavior and appearance.

He/she will conduct a preliminary examination to ascertain whether you are suffering from an injury or condition unrelated to drugs.

man performing field sobriety tests

The DRE will also perform the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test to look at the condition of your eyes.

field sobriety test

The DRE will have you perform psychophysical tests that are like the field sobriety tests. He/she may take your vital signs and take several pulse readings2.

After completing the evaluation, the DRE normally requests a urine, blood and/or saliva sample from the subject for a toxicology lab analysis.

Does A DRE Prefer Blood, Urine or Saliva?

Blood is preferred by law enforcement agencies since it is considered to be the most accurate.

blood test

The DRE protocol is a compilation of tests that physicians have used for decades to identify and assess alcohol- and/or drug-induced impairment.

Can You Get A DUI For Taking Prescription Drugs?

Yes.  The prosecutor may file DUI charges if you drive under the influence of any drug that impairs your ability to operate a motor vehicle with the caution or care of a sober person under similar circumstances3.

blood test

This means that even if you are taking a valid prescription drug, and the drug impairs you mentally or physically for the purposes of driving, the prosecutor may file a DUI if you are arrested.

Penalties For Vehicle Code 23152(f)

Like an alcohol DUI, a first offense is a misdemeanor in California.  The penalty is the same as an alcohol DUI.

1st offense PenaltyMisdemeanor
FineMax of $1000
ProbationSummary probation
License SuspensionYes
Drug/Alcohol schoolYes
County Jail0 – 6 months

Can DUI Drugs Be A Felony?

It can be under certain circumstances including the following:

  • If it is your 4th DUI (whether alcohol or drugs) within 10 years, the prosecutor may file felony charges.
  • If there was an accident where someone was seriously injured

Sentencing Enhancements For Vehicle Code 23152(f)

In determining a sentence a judge will look at the circumstances of a case including any aggravating factors that may enhance the penalty.

Let’s take a look at a few of these enhancements in depth.

Refusing A Chemical Test

If you are arrested for DUI and the prosecution alleges that you were on drugs, you will be charged with only the driving under the influence charge.

However, if you refused to take the blood or urine test after you were arrested, the prosecution will allege a sentencing enhancement that you refused a required test.

refused box checked off

What Are The Consequences For Refusing A Chemical Test?

The DMV will suspend your license for one year without the ability to obtain a restricted license if you lose your DMV hearing.

Having A Child In The Car

Having a child in your vehicle when driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is an aggravating factor that will increase your punishment.

Additional punishment includes

  • A minium of 48 hours – 90 days in jail depending on prior criminal record4.

Having a child in the car also can result in a charge of child endangerment.

What Is The Penalty For Child Endangerment?

Child endangerment is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison for two, four, or six years.

Any probation offer from a prosecutor must include:

  • 48 months of probation
  • Criminal protective order
  • No less than 1 year of child abusers treatment counseling5.
  • Subject to random drug testing and must abstain from alcohol and drugs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you get a DUI for Driving High?

Yes.  It is illegal to drive under the influence of ANY drug (even legal ones.)

This means that if the prosecutor can prove that you are impaired for the purposes of driving (high), and that you drove under the influence, you will be charged with DUI even if no alcohol was involved.

Is it illegal to drive on benzodiazepines?

Yes.  Benzodiazepines is a class of drugs that impairs your ability to operate a motor vehicle.  T

\here is a warning label on the prescription bottle that indicates that the drug can cause impairment and should not be taken if the patient plans to drive.

Because benzo’s like Xanax causes impairment, the prosecutor can charge you with a DUI if you are arrested after driving under the influence of xanax or other benzodiazepines (even if you have a valid prescription.)

Resources On DUI & Information On The Court Room Process

Next Steps

If you have been arrested and would like to learn more about how much DUI attorneys cost.

If you want to understand why its important to have an attorney represent you.

If you are ready to discuss a pending case with an attorney contact the Aizman Law Firm at 818-351-9555 for a free confidential consultation.


  1. Drug Recognition Experts []
  2. Evolution of the DRE officer and program []
  3. Vehicle Code 23152(f) – It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle []
  4. California Vehicle Code 23572 []
  5. California Penal Code 273a(c). []

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