California law has long held commercial drivers to a higher standard. In addition to tougher requirements to obtain a commercial license, commercial drivers are also held to stricter standards relating to driving under the influence (DUI) charges. It's no surprise that as times change, the laws change with them.
The explosion in popularity of rideshare programs has led California to amend their DUI regulations so that tax, limo, and rideshare drivers are held to the same legal standard as other commercial drivers. This change is due to the trust the passengers of taxis, limos, and rideshare companies put in their drivers. If you have been charged with a DUI while driving a taxi, limo, or rideshare vehicle in L.A. County, William S. Kroger Attorney at Law may be able to help.
DUI by a Taxi or Rideshare Driver
While the standard for obtaining a DUI conviction for a taxi, limo, or rideshare driver is lower, the potential penalties are the same as any DUI conviction. A first, second, or third conviction is a misdemeanor while subsequent convictions are felonies. There are a number of limo, taxi, and rideshare companies that operate in L.A. County, and California Vehicle Code § 23152 (e) applies to all of them. Some of the most commonly used rideshare companies in L.A. County include:
One of the two major players in the rideshare industry, Lyft originated as a long distance rideshare platform for college students. Today, it is a billion dollar company that has a fleet of freelance drivers nationwide. Lyft has several tiers of rides, from the most basic to luxury options.
The largest player in the rideshare industry, Uber is a worldwide phenomenon available in 785 metropolitan areas. Founded in 2009, the industry leader has a variety of services including luxury rides and food delivery.
Less well known that Lyft or Uber, HopSkipDrive is nevertheless a popular rideshare option in L.A. County. HopSkipDrive is different in that it caters to children. The company requires newer vehicles and drivers with a background in childcare. To ensure the safety of the children, HopSkipDrive requires a 13-point background check on all drivers.
The Elements of a DUI by Taxi or Rideshare Driver
The allowable blood alcohol concentration for a taxi, limo, or rideshare driver is significantly lower than for non-commercial drivers. According to California Vehicle Code § 23152 (e) it is unlawful:
for a person who has 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a motor vehicle when a passenger for hire is a passenger in the vehicle 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 having an interest 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.
In other words, if you are operating a taxi, limo, or rideshare vehicle and having a paying passenger in the car with you, it is unlawful to register a blood alcohol concentration of .04 or more. This distinction is important as you can be working as a taxi driver but be held to the higher standard at any point where you do not have a paying customer. Consider the following examples:
Example 1: Rideshare Driver During Trip
You are a rideshare driver operating in L.A. County. Despite having a few drinks earlier in the evening, you decide to pick up a few rides before you head home. You head to the pickup spot and find your passenger. On your way to their destination, you are pulled over for speeding. The arresting officer smells alcohol on your breath and eventually arrests you under suspicion of DUI. You are taken to jail where you give a breath sample that registers a .06. Because you were operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of at least .04 with a passenger in your vehicle, you will be charged with DUI by a rideshare driver.
Example 2: Rideshare Driver Before Pickup
After a night of drinks, you decide to pick up a few rideshare trips before heading home. You log in to your app and select your first ride. However, on your way to pick up your ride you are pulled over for speeding. The officer, smelling alcohol on your breath, initiates a DUI investigation. The end result is that you are arrested on suspicion of DUI. After you arrive at the jail, you submit a breath test that registers a BAC of .06.
Even though you were in the process of picking up a ride, Section 23152 (e) doesn't apply to you because you were not driving with a passenger in your car. Keep in mind that while you may not be charged with DUI by a rideshare driver, you could still face charges even though your BAC was below the .08 limit. That is because pursuant to California Vehicle Code § 23152 outlaws driving a vehicle while under the influence of any alcoholic beverage regardless of your BAC at the time.
If you are convicted of DUI by a taxi, limo, or rideshare driver you will face the same penalties as any non-commercial driver who has been convicted of DUI. For a first offense, you will be charged with a misdemeanor. A conviction will result in a jail sentence between 48 hours and six months. The judge may suspend most or all of that entire jail sentence. You will also receive a 30-day suspension of your driving privileges and a maximum fine of $1,000.After your driver's license is returned, you may be required to maintain an ignition interlock device.
For a second misdemeanor conviction, you will face a minimum sentence of 96 hours in jail and a maximum of one year. Like with a first offense, you might serve probation or house arrest as opposed to actual jail time. A second conviction will also lead to a 2-year license suspension and a maximum fine of $1,000.
For a third conviction, you risk a minimum jail sentence of 120 days and a maximum of 1 year. Of that 120-day minimum, you will be required to serve at least 30 days. However, a third conviction is still considered a misdemeanor under California law. A third conviction also carries a three-year suspension of your driver's license and a maximum fine of $1,000.
For fourth and subsequent offenses, you will be charged with felony DUI under California law. A felony DUI carries a state prison sentence between 16 months and 4 years. Additionally, you will face a maximum fine of $1,000 as well as a 4-year revocation of your driver's license.
In addition to the penalties set by statute, you will also face other consequences. Every day that your license is suspended is a day you will be unable to operate as a rideshare driver. And that is assuming you will still have a job to return to; a DUI conviction could cause you to lose the opportunity to work as a taxi, limo, or rideshare driver. If you are convicted of felony DUI, you will also lose your right to vote or own a firearm.
Legal Defense Strategies for Rideshare Driver DUIs in California
When you hire an experienced L.A. County DUI Defense Attorney, they will review your case in an effort to identify every possible defense. That includes defenses common to every DUI case, like challenges to the validity of a chemical test or of the traffic stop. But there are also defenses that only apply in DUI by a taxi, limo, or rideshare driver including arguing your passenger was not a paying customer.
Challenges to the Chemical Tests
All DUI by taxi, limo, and rideshare driver cases are based upon the result of a chemical test of a blood or breath sample. However, these tests are not infallible. If the samples were collected, transported, or tested improperly your attorney may be able to have the results excluded.
Challenges to the Traffic Stop
The police can't simply pull you over any time they want. If the traffic stop that resulted in your DUI arrest was illegal, your attorney may be able to exclude from trial any evidence collected due to the stop. That can include any chemical test you may have submitted to.
Challenging that Your Passenger was a Passenger for Hire
Rideshare companies are relatively new to our society, and the relationship between a rideshare driver and a passenger in their vehicle can vary between trips. It is possible that you are pulled over with a person that has been a passenger for hire previously, but on this trip is simply riding with you based on your personal relationship. In that case, your attorney may argue that you should not be held to the lower BAC threshold reserved for commercial drivers.
Finding the Right L.A. County DWI Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with DUI by a taxi, limo, or rideshare driver in L.A. County, William S. Kroger Attorney at Law may be able to help you obtain a positive result in your case. William S. Kroger is an experienced DUI defense attorney that is well-versed in the law surrounding alcohol and rideshare drivers. Contact William S. Kroger Attorney at Law for your free consultation.