About every 20 minutes, someone is hurt or killed in a vehicular crash involving alcohol in Texas. Too many lives are lost, so Texas is cracking down on drinking and driving.
The state of Texas has “zero tolerance” laws. These make it illegal for underage drivers to drive with any detectable amount of alcohol in their blood.
But they’re not just focused on those under 21—penalties for of-age adults are becoming more severe. Keep reading to learn more about the Texas DWI laws.
What is DWI?
While the law prohibits drivers from operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher, a person is considered to be driving under the influence if they are impaired in any way.
Many states use the term “driving under the influence” (DUI), but Texas officially uses “driving while intoxicated” (DWI). Both of these terms refer to drunk or drugged driving.
Being impaired by alcohol, drugs, or another substance means you lack the normal use of mental or physical faculties.
DWI Without Driving
Believe it or not, it’s possible for a motorist to get a DWI without operating a vehicle.
Texas considers the term “operate” to be broad. It includes any action that affects the functioning or use of a moving vehicle.
For example, you can get a DWI while sitting in your car listening to music or getting warm. It’s even possible to get a DWI if you’re sleeping in the backseat with keys in your car.
There is no perfect formula for predicting a person’s BAC. Many factors can affect an individual’s BAC, including sex, weight, and the number and type of drinks they consume.
It’s possible to predict your BAC after a certain number of drinks with tables and calculators.
But be careful. These tools are only able to offer approximations. They don’t take into account all of the factors previously listed. The only way to be 100% safe after consuming alcohol is to not drive.
Penalties for Texas DWI Laws
If an officer suspects you of driving while intoxicated, they will pull you over. Be prepared to show your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration.
If you are determined to be impaired, your punishment will depend on your number of convictions.
If you’re caught driving with a BAC of less than 0.15%, you will be charged with a Class B Misdemeanor. Depending on the penalty, you could pay a fine up to $2,000 and spend 3 to 180 days in jail.
Your driver’s license will be suspended for 90 to 365 days.
With a BAC of 0.08% to 0.014%, you’re eligible to apply for a “non-disclosure” two years after the end of your probation. You’re required to keep an ignition interlock device on your motor vehicle for six months, but you can restrict who sees a DWI on your criminal record.
In order to apply for non-disclosure, you would start with a DWI attorney.
If your BAC is greater than 0.15%, the fine increases to $4,000 and jail time increases to a minimum of one year. This is a Class A misdemeanor
If you’re caught a second time, the maximum fine is still no more than $4,000. You’ll face jail time of 30 days to one year. Under a Class A Misdemeanor, your license could be suspended from 180 days to two years.
Once you’re caught driving while intoxicated a third time, things get hairy. The maximum fine will increase to $10,000 and you stand the chance of spending two to 10 years in prison. Yes, prison. Not a county-run jail. There is a difference.
Your driver’s license suspension will be anywhere from 180 days to two years. This is a 3rd Degree Felony.
Other DWI-Related Penalties
If you’re caught driving while intoxicated and an accident has occurred that causes serious bodily injury, his is considered Intoxication Assault. The penalties for DWI begin to increase and you could face 2 to 10 years in prison. Regardless, you’ll spend at least 30 days in jail.
If your vehicle is considered a “deadly weapon,” you’ll face a 3rd Degree Felony.
If the injury caused is serious enough that death occurs, you’ll be charged with Intoxication Manslaughter. The maximum fine is $10,000 and you can be imprisoned anywhere from 2 to 20 years for a 2nd Degree Felony.
Even if probation is granted, you must serve a jail sentence of at least 120 days.
DWI with Child Passenger
If you’re charged with a DWI with a passenger under 15 years of age in the vehicle, punishment is jail time up to two years and a maximum fine of $10,000. This is a felony that carries state jail time.
Most DWI convictions come with a period of probation. This is a suspension of a jail sentence, driver’s license suspension, or a fine.
If you agree to probation, you are normally expected to do the following:
- not commit any further crimes during the probation
- report to a probation officer once a month
- pay a monthly fee
- satisfy a certain number of community service hours
- attend DWI education classes
- abstain from drugs and/or alcohol during probation
- remain within your county of residence, unless granted permission to leave by the judge
- install an alcohol ignition interlock device on your vehicle (in some cases)
This is not an all-inclusive list and probation requirements are ultimately determined by the judge. In some cases, accepting a Class A Misdemeanor will seem more attractive than months of probation.
Know What Happens Next
Getting a DWI in Texas is scary, especially if it’s your second or third offense. It becomes less scary if you’re familiar with the Texas DWI laws.
It’s unlikely that you will get a judge to dismiss a DWI charge unless the court throws out evidence that’s critical to your conviction.
Are you or a loved one dealing with the aftermath of a DWI charge? Bookmark this page now so can refer to it throughout the legal process.