Legality of Party Buses

Just got paid, Friday night… this used to be the theme song of adults ready to hit the clubs on the weekend after a hard work week. Well, now the party has extended to what are known as “party buses”. This relatively new phenomenon is all the rage but not without incident. As with any new hot trend, there is typically a down side that creates a need for legislation to curb abuses. California tightened up rules regarding party buses after a San Mateo teen died in a crash after leaving a party bus.
Laws for limousines have been in place since the 1980’s following similar incidents of deaths related to underage drinking while onboard.
Legislation has been somewhat unclear on some key points surrounding party buses and liability since it is still somewhat of a new fad, however, several points involving these laws were clarified in California and a new law went into effect on January 1, 2013. Assembly Bill 45, which passed both the state senate and assembly without opposition, was introduced by Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) and was designed to address the growing popularity of alcohol-fueled parties on privately chartered buses. Chauffeurs, bus operators and bus companies can now face stiff fines and even loss of license for the activities of their passengers, specifically underage passengers.
One thing the new law does not require is any registration, notification, or license with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. However, that assumes that the alcohol is to be furnished by the travelers – not the bus operator. Travelers bring the alcohol aboard and the bus-operator just provide the housing for its ingestion. In California, there is no license type that presently permits the party bus operator to furnish the alcohol.
The Passenger Charter-party Carriers Act is in place to make sure that only carriers with specific permits from the California Public Utilities Commission engage in transportation services specifically engaged for drinking. However the newer legislation further expounds on this Act by defining responsibilities and liabilities for carriers in this business. Key regulations include:

  1. Requiring any party bus or limo with minors on board to have chaperones in place to ensure that minors do not drink while on board. Carriers are required to ask when making reservations if alcohol will be consumed and if anyone under 21 will be present. If the answer is “Yes” to both questions, a chaperone must be designated. The chaperone can be held liable if underage drinking occurs on their watch.
  2. Carriers and operators of buses are not only responsible for driving their passengers but they are also on the hook if underage drinking occurs while they are operating the vehicle. Failure to comply brings with it the possibility of being charged with a misdemeanor after three (3) violations.
  3. Bus companies can be hit with fines up to $2000 for their first two (2) offenses and have their license revoked for a third.


  • California Public Utilities Code, section 5384.1
  • California Public Utilities Code, section 5384.5
  • California Vehicle Code, section 23229.1
  • California Vehicle Code, section 40000.20