The Legal Definition of and Penalties for DWI in Texas
Like other states, Texas has strict laws that prohibit driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These laws are designed to protect the public and minimize the number of vehicle accidents and deaths caused by intoxicated driving.
If you live in or plan on visiting Texas, you will need to learn about Texas’s DWI laws. You can avoid being pulled over and charged with this offense by knowing the blood alcohol content levels that constitute intoxicated driving in this state.
An Overview of DWI Laws in Texas
Texas defines DWI (driving while intoxicated) as the state of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It not only is illegal to drive a car or truck while intoxicated, but you also cannot operate a motorboat, motorcycle, RV, four-wheeler, or any other kind of vehicle after drinking alcohol or using drugs.
Law enforcement in Texas determines if you are punishable with a DWI charge by testing your blood alcohol content, or BAC. The BAC level that you cannot legally exceed will depend on your age and whether or not you are a private or commercial driver.
Adults aged 21 and over must have a BAC of 0.08 percent or under while commercial drivers must stay under a 0.04 percentage. Minors under the age of 21 can be arrested for DWI in Texas if they have any traceable amount of alcohol or drugs in their systems.
The legal penalties likewise will vary according to your age and prior DWI history. Most first and second time DWI offenders are charged with misdemeanors unless they were involved in an accident that resulted in significant damage to property, injury, or death to another person. Third and subsequent DWI offenders will nearly always be charged with felony DWI in Texas.
DWI Penalties for Adults
Adults aged 21 and older typically will face harsher legal penalties for DWI than minors. First-time DWI offenders in the state generally receive lighter sentences. They many times will face penalties like:
- A fine of up to $2000
- Three days to 180 days in jail
- Suspension of their driver’s license for up to one year
- A yearly fee of $1000 to $2000 for up to three years to retain their license
If you are a second-time DWI offender in Texas, your penalties can include:
- A civil fine of up to $4000
- One month to one year in jail
- Loss of your driver’s license for up to two years
- A fee of $1000 to $2000 for up to three years to retain your license
Third time and subsequent DWI offenders in Texas face harsher penalties like:
- A civil fine of up to $10,000
- Two to 10 years in state prison
- A fee of $1000 to $2000 per year for up to three years to retain their license
- Loss of their driver’s license for up to two years
People who are convicted of more than two DWIs in Texas also must have interlock ignition breathalyzer devices installed on their personal vehicles.
DWI Penalties for Minors in Texas
The legal system in Texas is designed to mete out lesser penalties for DWI offenders under the age of 21. A minor with any detectable amount of drugs or alcohol in his or her system while driving can face punishments of:
- A one-year suspension of his or her driver’s license
- Fines up to $500
- Up to 12 hours of alcohol education program participation
- A 90-day suspension of one’s license if he or she receives community service
Minors who do not complete at least 12 hours of alcohol awareness education in Texas will receive another 180 days’ suspension of their drivers’ licenses. They likewise must submit to having an interlock ignition breathalyzer device installed on their vehicles.
Avoiding DWI in Texas
If you currently live in or plan to visit Texas soon, you can easily avoid being charged with and found guilty of DWI. The most obvious way to avoid a DWI is to simply not drink or use drugs and then operate a motor vehicle.
If you do drink while out in public like at a bar or restaurant, you should call a taxi or rideshare to drive you home once you are over the legal BAC limit. You also could ask a trusted friend or relative to be your designated driver for the night.
If possible, you could stay the night where you are at instead of driving home drunk. These options allow you to avoid being charged with a DWI in Texas and facing any of the legal penalties that go along with being found guilty of this crime.
Hire a DWI Attorney
If you have been charged with DWI in Texas, you may want to hire a skilled DWI attorney to represent you right away. Your attorney can act quickly in your defense and possibly help you avoid the worst outcomes of being found guilty of this crime.
He or she will first start by making sure you were legally detained and tested for DWI. Your lawyer can make sure your blood or urine sample showed that you were over the legal BAC limit.
Your lawyer can also argue down the charges against you and help you avoid the most severe penalties. You may receive a lighter sentence of community service and a fine instead of going to jail or prison.
Texas punishes DWI offenses with jail time, penalties, and suspension of a driver’s license. Law enforcement has the right to determine if you are over the legal limit by testing your blood alcohol limit. You may avoid the harshest penalties for DWI in this state by hiring an experienced attorney to represent you after you have been charged with this offense.
Brett A. Podolsky is a Criminal Legal Specialist certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is the former Assistant Criminal District Attorney for the State of Texas. As a criminal defense attorney in Houston, Texas, Mr. Podolsky dedicates his entire practice to litigation. He accepts a wide variety of cases, including drug charges, federal crimes, white-collar crimes, and sex crimes.