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Drunk Driving Laws in Texas

Posted on November 28, 2022

Driving while intoxicated beyond the state’s legal limit is not only incredibly dangerous but also subjects drivers to harsh punishments in Texas. Here is an overview of the state’s laws regarding drunk driving and the potential penalties.

Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)

Texas uses the term “driving while intoxicated” (DWI). By law, motorists are prohibited from operating a vehicle when they:

  • Have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher;
  • Are intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.

As a result, drivers can receive a DWI if they are considered “intoxicated” by law, which means they “lack the normal use of mental or physical faculties” due to alcohol, drugs, or another substance.

Per Se DWI

Another term you may come across is a Per Se DWI, which is a drunk driving offense based on BAC. BAC is a measure of the amount of alcohol circulating in a person’s bloodstream. Levels are typically shown as a percentage. The amount of alcohol an individual must drink to reach the legal limit (.08%) depends on various factors such as gender, weight, and the number of drinks consumed or their strength.

Underage Drunk Drivers

Texas has “zero tolerance” laws when it comes to underage drivers (20 years old and younger). That means it is illegal for a driver under 21 to operate a vehicle after drinking any amount of alcohol.

DWI Without Driving

Under Texas law, motorists are able to get a DWI even if they were not driving at the time. “Operating” a vehicle is a very broad term, according to Texas courts and applies to any action that enables its use. Therefore, the police can arrest a person for DWI if they believe they were in actual physical control of the vehicle. Physical control means having the potential ability to control or operate the vehicle—such as placing the keys in the ignition, sitting with the vehicle turned on, sleeping it off in the driver’s seat, etc. In these scenarios, you are moments away from operating the car.

DWI Penalties in Texas

Here are the potential penalties for a DWI in Texas:

1st Offense 2nd Offense 3rd Offense
Jail 72 hours to 6 months

(BAC 0.15% or higher— maximum is 12 months)

30 days to 12 months 2 to 10 years
Fines Up to $2,000

(BAC 0.15% or higher— up to $4,000)

Up to $4,000 Up to $10,000
License Suspension 90 days to 12 months 180 days to 2 years 180 days to 2 years
Ignition Interlock Device (IID) As a condition of an “occupational license” 1 year (if prior conviction was within 5 years) 1 year (if prior conviction was within 5 years)

Penalties can depend on the circumstances of each case, but whether a driver has prior convictions plays a significant role in sentencing.

Texas’s Implied Consent Laws

Under Texas’s laws on “implied consent,” drivers must submit to a blood or breath test when arrested for a DWI. If they refuse, their license will automatically be suspended for 180 days if it is their first offense and two years for a second offense within the past ten years.

Holding Drunk Drivers Accountable

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver, our Waco car accident lawyers can help you hold the at-fault party accountable. It could be the drunk driver themself who is liable, but it could also be their employer or their server at a bar. To learn more about liability in drunk driving accidents, and to recover compensation for your injuries, reach out today and schedule a free consultation.