Most parents would never intentionally do anything to harm their child, especially while driving. They make sure infants and toddlers are in car seats, older children wear seatbelts and they will take extra precautions to avoid a car crash.
Safe driving includes avoiding driving under the influence. Still, parents who have a drink at a restaurant with their child might not feel impaired and believe they can safely drive their family home.
However, if on the way home they are pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving, given a breath test and arrested, they could be charged with two criminal offenses: DUI and child endangerment.
DUI with a child in the vehicle
In California, it is against the law to drive under the influence of intoxicating substances with a child under age 14 in the vehicle. Doing so carries enhanced penalties compared to a standard DUI.
It is irrelevant whether the parent meant to cause the child any harm, if the parent was driving erratically or how intoxicated the parent was. If a parent drives under the influence with a minor under age 14 in the vehicle, enhanced penalties apply.
If a parent is driving with a blood-alcohol content at or above 0.08 and their child is in the car, they could face drunk driving charges and charges of child endangerment.
A person commits child endangerment if they purposely cause or allow a minor to experience physical pain or mental anguish. A minor of any age being driven around by a drunk parent can satisfy the elements of this crime, especially in the event of a drunk driving crash.
Child endangerment in general is a misdemeanor offense, but it is elevated to a felony offense if the circumstances could cause the child to suffer great bodily injury.
For these reasons, parents need to think carefully about driving with their child in the vehicle if they have been drinking. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to criminal charges.