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Most Common Misdemeanors in California

by Jerry Munroe

Driving in the Golden State is like a high-stakes game of Mario Kart, except without colorful characters, magical power-ups, or exhilarating rainbow tracks. It's a real-life adventure where the rules of the road are your guiding stars, and violations can turn your joyride into a bumper car nightmare.

Despite driving being a daily routine for most Californians, it's crucial to understand that specific actions behind the wheel can lead to severe legal consequences. Numerous misdemeanor charges exist in the Golden State, each carrying their fines and penalties, and they might even discourage you from taking to the highway.

But fret not, fellow motorists! In this article, we'll delve into the legal world of vehicle operation in California, from navigating the treacherous waters of DUI or DWI fines to avoiding the pitfalls of hit-and-run or reckless driving that may get you a traffic ticket.

We'll unveil the fines and penalties that can make even the most fearless road veterans tap on the brakes.

So, grab your favorite driving playlist, fasten your seatbelt, adjust your rearview mirror, and join us as we embark on this journey through the world of California's most common traffic misdemeanors, violations, and fines.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

First on our list is Driving under the influence (DUI), which I'd say is a no-brainer.

Despite the Golden State's laid-back energy, California's DUI statute considers it a crime for anyone to try to drive under the influence of any drug. If you're found with alcohol, weed, or crack, you're sure to face severe consequences.

It doesn't only apply to car drivers but also to those who own bikes and scooters. That's right! Bikes and scooters are both designated as motor vehicles in California. So, don't think you'll escape the wrath of the law just because you have a scooter.

DUI penalties often vary depending on the specific details of the case, including factors like blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level greater than 0.08% before DUI convictions and any additional aggravating circumstances.

For first-time DUI offenses, you may receive punishments of up to three years of summary probation, a fine between $390 and $1,000, and the mandatory completion of a 30-hour first-offender alcohol program, the price of which is $500.

Second DUI offenses are punishable by 3 to 5 years of summary probation, fines plus penalty assessments of $390 to $2,000, up to 30 months of DUI school, and no less than 96 hours in jail.

However, these fines may, at times, be the least of your worries, as additional costs like court fees, probation fees, and increased insurance premiums can also burden you. Here at AutoAllies, we’ve got you covered with our friendly membership package.

Reckless Driving

Another misdemeanor that poses a significant risk to public safety is reckless driving, which involves operating a vehicle without caring for the protection of other road users. Fines for a reckless driving offense in California can range from $145 to $1,000, depending on the severity of the crime.

However, as you already know, financial consequences are just the tip of the iceberg. Reckless driving charges can also result in your license being suspended for up to 6 months, mandatory traffic school, and even imprisonment for up to 90 days.

Furthermore, the DMV may add two points to your driving record, which can lead to increased insurance rates. The potential impact on your personal and professional life should be enough to discourage you from engaging in reckless driving behaviors.

Driving with a Suspended License

Driving with a suspended license is a severe offense that can lead to a misdemeanor charge. It occurs when you operate a vehicle while your driving privileges have been revoked.

Fines for this violation usually range from $300 to $1,000, and you could also face jail time or both, depending on the circumstances you’re found in.

If it's your first offense, you could face up to 6 months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000, or both. If convicted of a second offense of driving on a suspended license, you could face up to 1 year in a county jail and a fine up to $2,000, or both.

Operating a vehicle without a valid license not only puts you at risk but also endangers others on the road. Always adhere to the laws governing driver's licenses and ensure you comply with the requirements to avoid the legal and financial consequences of driving with a suspended license.

Hit and Run

Leaving the scene of an accident without stopping and providing necessary information, like a phone number, is considered a hit-and-run offense. Hit-and-run charges can result in misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the accident's severity.

Hit-and-run fines can range from $1,000 to $10,000, depending on the circumstances.

If it only results in vehicle damage but no bodily injury to anyone, you can be fined up to $1,000 and 6 months in jail or both.

In cases where the hit-and-run results in someone being injured, you'll be fined between $1,000 to $10,000 and up to 4 years in prison. Other penalties include restitution for the property damage and 2 points on your California driving record.

The moral and ethical obligation to take responsibility for your actions after an accident should always supersede the desire to flee the scene.


Exceeding the posted speed limit or driving at an unsafe speed is considered a violation of the California Vehicle Code.

The cost of your speeding ticket in California typically depends on how much you exceed the speed limit. The base fine usually ranges from $35 for going slightly over the limit to $100 for excessive speeding.

The base fine is combined with other supercharges, penalties, court fees, and maybe even insurance premiums to give a final estimate of between $238 and $490.

Running a Red Light or Stop Sign

Failing to stop at a red light or stop sign is a violation that can result in a misdemeanor charge.

In the Golden State, running a red light or stop sign costs you because of the fines and increases to your insurance rates; it also results in points on your license. The penalties for these violations can vary but typically range from $100 to $500.

Driving with Expired Registration tags

Operating a vehicle with expired registration tags is another typical misdemeanor case. It is a relatively minor offense that will lead to a $25 base fine plus a penalty assessment, a state tax multiplier of 4-9 times the base amount.

Each time you are ticketed for driving with expired registration tags in California, the penalties will be compounded, leading to fines of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Cell Phone Use While Driving

Using a handheld cell phone while driving is against the law in California. Violations of this law can result in fines ranging from around $120 for a first offense to over $250 for subsequent offenses.

The above values arise from the base fine for a cell phone ticket being $20 for the first offense and $50 for all subsequent offenses. These are then compounded with various assessments and fees depending on where you received the ticket.

It is important to note that these fines apply to both adults and underage drivers who violate the handheld cell phone law.

Driving without a Valid License

Operating your motor vehicle without a valid driver's license can result in a misdemeanor charge. The fines for driving without a valid license can range from $100 to $300.

Failure to Yield

Failing to yield the right-of-way to other vehicles or pedestrians when required by law violates the California Vehicle Code. The fines for this violation can range from $100 to $300.

You'll also receive one point on your DMV record and risk getting a negligent operator license suspension if you get 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months, or 8 points in 36 months.

Aiding a Misdemeanor

Under the California Penal Code, you can be charged with a misdemeanor for counseling and aiding another in commissioning the primary misdemeanor. It doesn't matter that you weren’t the principal perpetrator. Your assistance or encouragement to do the prohibited act would suffice to ground a charge.

Note: The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

As we conclude our discussion on the illegalities of the most common road offenses and the fines they incur in California, it becomes evident that the consequences of violating traffic laws can extend far beyond monetary fines. Each violation carries its own set of penalties, both financial and non-financial, designed to deter individuals from engaging in dangerous or unlawful behaviors on the road.

From the serious offense of driving under the influence (DUI), which not only threatens the safety of oneself but also that of other road users, to reckless driving that disregards the well-being of fellow motorists, these violations can result in hefty fines, license suspensions, mandatory programs, and even imprisonment.

Here at Auto Allies, we understand the gravity of misdemeanor offenses and the impact they can have on your life. Our team of experienced attorneys is well-versed in California's traffic laws and is ready to fight for your rights and protect your future.

Whether you're facing charges of DUI, reckless driving, driving with a suspended license, hit-and-run, or any other misdemeanor violation, we have the skills and resources to mount a strong defense on your behalf.

We'll carefully analyze the details of your case, explore every available legal avenue, and strive to achieve the best possible outcome.
You don’t have to face the complexities of the legal system alone; contact Auto Allies today, and let us fight for you!