A DWI is a legal term that stands for “driving while impaired.” Although it is illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or excessive alcohol in all states, each state can have slightly different rules. States can vary in what they define as driving while impaired and the consequences. In Texas, a DWI is a criminal offense, and it is important to know what to do if you are pulled over under suspicion of a DWI and what will happen if you are convicted of a DWI.
What Is a DWI under Texas Law?
A DWI, more commonly known as drunk driving, in Texas is a criminal offense. Texas defines a DWI using the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If you are 21 or older, you are considered driving while impaired under Texas DWI laws if you have a BAC of .08 percent or higher. If you are under 21, you are considered driving while impaired if you have a BAC over 0 percent, meaning any trace of alcohol in your system. For commercial drivers, a BAC of or over .04 percent classifies as a DWI for Texas DWI laws.
However, you can also be determined “intoxicated” if law enforcement considers you to not have normal, functioning mental or physical abilities because of drugs or alcohol. A BAC is a common way of measuring intoxication level, but law enforcement can arrest you if there is probable cause that you are intoxicated. Officers can use sobriety tests, observations about behavior, and the smell or presence of alcohol or drugs to arrest a driver.
What Happens If I get Pulled Over?
Typically, the officer will ask for your license and then may ask you to do sobriety tests. These may be filmed in order to later use as evidence. Next, the officer may ask you to complete a roadside breath test, although this will likely not be used in court because it is not proven to be reliable. Finally, if you are arrested, you may be taken to the station for a Breathalyzer or BAC test, and you may end up spending the night in jail.
Can I Refuse the Tests?
While, by law, you need to hand the officer your license, you do have the right to refuse the tests. Refusal, however, will not stop you from being arrested; the officer can still arrest you on probable cause.
What Happens If I Refuse Them?
Texas has an “implied consent” rule, so by refusing a test, you can actually lose your license for a period of 90 days to two years. This “implied consent” means that if you are driving in Texas, you are consenting to a chemical test—like a blood or breath test—if you are pulled over. If you are charged with violating this implied consent law, it is called an Administrative License Revocation, which is a separate charge from the Texas DWI laws but a consequence nonetheless.
What Are the Penalties I Should Expect?
For adults, the penalties vary depending on your previous offenses and how high your BAC was when you were arrested. You can read about the penalties for each offense below. In general, penalties include fines, jail time, and possible requirement of an alcohol education class and/or installment of an ignition interlock device. In addition, you should note that there can be other charges with you DWI, like intoxication assault if you injure another person while driving, and the consequences will likely be more severe.
For minors—defined as those who are under 21—they can be fined, put on probation, required to attend a class for alcohol education, receive mandatory community service hours, and lose their right to drive. These penalties, like with adults, vary with previous offenses and BAC. The first offense usually results in a license suspension of 30 days, the following a suspension of 60 days, and the third offense a suspension for 180 days.
What Happens If I Have a Child Passenger?
If you are driving while under the influence and have a child passenger—a child younger than 15—with you at the time, your consequences can be much more drastic. By Texas DWI laws, you can be fined up to $10,000 and have jail time of up to 2 years. Your license will likely be suspended for 180 days.
First Offense DWI
The first offense for Texas DWI laws typically results in a fine up to $2,000 and jail time of 3 to 180 days. You can also have your license suspended for up to 2 years and an additional fee for 3 years of $2,000 to keep your license. You may also be required to complete an alcohol awareness program, and you can also have to have an ignition interlock device installed.
Second Offense DWI
For your second offense, under Texas DWI laws, you can be charged with up to a fine of $4,000 and jail time of a period between a month and a year. Like the consequences of the first offense, your license can be suspended for up to two years with a surcharge for 3 years to keep your license. You can also be required to attend an education program and/or have an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.
Third Offense DWI
The third offense for Texas DWI laws can result in a fine up to $10,000 and time in state prison between 2 and 10 years. Similarly, your license can be suspended for up to 2 years with a surcharge for 3 years. You may also have to attend an alcohol class and install an ignition interlock device.
It is important to know what constitutes a DWI in Texas if you are planning on driving in this state. If you do find yourself being pulled over, knowing the procedure and the potential penalties is helpful, and there are DWI lawyers that can help you better understand your situation and advise you on what to do.
The easiest way to avoid a DWI is to not drink and drive, and if you are planning on drinking, know how a drink will affect your BAC and always play it on the safe side.
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