Texas DWI Laws & Penalties
In the state of Texas, drunk driving laws carry harsh penalties for anyone found drinking and driving. The legal adult drinking age is 21 years old. The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for adult drivers in Texas is 0.08%. BAC is a measurement of the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream and can be measured by blood tests. More commonly, however, it is measured by a breathalyzer test. This chemical test requires the driver suspected of drunk driving to blow into a device that measures BAC. Texas police can arrest a driver even if he or she tests below the legal BAC limit but shows signs of impairment and inability to drive.
Unlike many other states, Texas convicts drunk drivers under driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges, rather than driving under the influence (DUI). In some states, DWI charges are less severe than DUI charges. In Texas, a DWI is the most severe alcohol-related driving infraction. Drivers do not have to be driving a vehicle to be charged with a DWI. Texas DWI laws state a driver can be charged if he or she is “operating” a vehicle while intoxicated. This can be interpreted by the court as simply being behind the wheel and in possession of the keys. Additionally, even passengers can be charged with a fine of up to $500 for an open alcohol container in a car.
Texas DWI with Child Passenger
If a driver chooses to drink and drive while carrying a passenger under the age of 15, he or she can be arrested for child endangerment in addition to DWI. This is considered a serious offense and Texas laws charge heavy fines and potential jail time to drivers who drink and drive with young passengers. Penalties for a DWI with a child passenger in Texas include loss of the driver’s license for 180 days and up to two (2) years in a state jail. Fines for a DWI with a child passenger can be up to $10,000, even for a first offense.
Texas First Offense DWI
First-time drunk driving offenses in Texas are not treated lightly. Even for a first offense, a driver will be required to serve jail time. Many courts require drivers arrested for DWI to undergo alcohol abuse counseling at the driver’s expense. Drivers facing a first DWI arrest can lose their licenses for up to one (1) year following their arrest. To reinstate a revoked driver license, the driver must pay a hefty reinstatement fee and may be required to show proof of alcohol rehabilitation completion.
- Jail time: Drivers facing their first DWI in Texas must serve at least three (3) days in jail. For more severe arrests, the court can order a driver to serve up to 180 days in jail for a first DWI offense.
- Fines: Fines for a first-time DWI are up to $2,000. However, a driver convicted of a DWI must pay a yearly fee of $1,000-$2,000 for the first three (3) years following his or her arrest. This fee is required to retain a driver’s license.
- BAC Test Refusal: Texas, like many states, operates under “implied consent.” This consent is given to the state when a driver receives his or her license. Under implied consent, Texas police have the right to require a driver to submit to a chemical test, such as blowing on a breathalyzer. If a driver refuses the test, his or her license is automatically suspended for 180 days.
- DUI Class Requirement: A judge can order a first-offense DWI driver to attend an Alcohol Education Program, an Intervention program approved by the state. For first time DWI drivers, this program is 12 hours long.
- Ignition Interlock Device Requirement: An ignition interlock device (IID) is equipment installed on a vehicle’s ignition which prevents the car from starting if the driver has been drinking. The driver must take and pass a breathalyzer test before the car can start. Texas does not required IIDs to be installed for a first offense DWI, but a judge can require one as part of the first-time drunk driver’s sentence.
Texas Second Offense DWI
In Texas, a second DWI arrest increases the severity of penalties the driver must accept. Drivers who are convicted of two DWIs are required to serve longer in jail and pay increased fines. License suspension for second-time drunk drivers is a period up to two (2) years. To reinstate their licenses, drivers pay a reinstatement fee. A driver with a second DWI must also pay annual fees to retain his or her drivers license after the suspension period is over.
- Jail time: Drivers arrested with a previous DWI conviction are required to serve a minimum of one month in jail. The judge can sentence a second-time offender up to one year of jail time depending on the severity of the arrest.
- Fines: The amount a second-time drunk driving offender pays in fines can double from a first offense to a second offense. Fines for a second DWI arrest are up to $4,000. In addition, the driver is required to pay a fee to retain his or her license in the amount of $1,000, $1,500, or even $2,000. This fee must be paid annually for three (3) years following the driver’s license reinstatement.
- BAC Test Refusal: Refusing a chemical test from a police officer warrants an automatic license suspension of 180 days.
- DUI Class Requirement: Repeat offenders of drunk driving may be required to attend and successfully complete a rigorous alcohol rehabilitation program. The program for drivers with more than one DWI is a 32-hour Intervention Program.
- Ignition Interlock Device Requirement: Any Texas driver with two or more DWI convictions in five (5) years must install and maintain an ignition interlock device on all vehicles he or she drive.
Texas Third Offense DWI
After a third drunk driving arrest, a driver faces significantly increased legal consequences for his or her actions. The driver may lose his or her license for up to two (2) years, the same penalty as a second-offense DWI. However, fines and prison time associated with a third DWI conviction are greatly increased from a first repeat offense. Due to longer required jail time, a third offense DWI makes reinstating a driver’s license much more difficult than previous offenses.
- Jail time: Drivers facing their third DWI conviction are required to serve two (2) years in prison. However, the driver can be sentenced for up to 10 years in prison, much higher than penalty limits for first or second offenses.
- Fines: Fines, like jail time, are increased to a much higher severity for a third DWI. The fine for a third-offense DWI in Texas is $10,000. The driver is still required to pay a fee of up to $2,000 annually for three (3) years to retain his or her license once it has been reinstated.
- BAC Test Refusal: A third BAC test refusal leads to a loss of the driver’s license for 180 days.
- DUI Class Requirement: A judge can order a driver facing third-offense DWI charges to attend an Alcohol Education Program. This intense class is 32 hours of alcohol rehabilitation for repeat DWI offenders.
- Ignition Interlock Device Requirement: An ignition interlock device is required for repeat drunk driving offenders. This device must be installed and maintained at the driver’s expense.
Texas CDL DWI
Commercial drivers in Texas are expected to follow stricter driving laws than regular drivers. Due to the large and often hazardous nature of commercial vehicles, their drivers have more responsibility to keeping roadways safe. The legal BAC limit for CDL drivers in Texas is 0.04%. Commercial drivers arrested for drunk driving face CDL disqualification for a minimum of one (1) year.
If the driver was transporting hazardous materials at the time of his or her arrest, the driver’s CDL is disqualified for at least three (3) years for a first offense. A second offense DWI for a CDL driver transporting hazardous materials results in a lifetime disqualification. Commercial drivers may have their CDL disqualified even if they are arrested for drunk driving in a personal vehicle.
Texas DWI Laws for Drivers Under 21
Drivers under the age of 21 years old are not allowed to purchase, possess, or consume alcoholic beverages in Texas. As a zero-tolerance state, underage drivers in Texas do not have to exceed the 0.08% BAC limit to be arrested. Minors with any alcohol in their systems while driving on public roads will be arrested for Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol by a Minor (DUIA by a Minor). Underage drivers between the ages of 17 and 20 years old are arrested and sentenced as adults for drinking and driving, including DWI convictions for a BAC of 0.08% or higher.
First Offense DUI for Minors under 17 Years Old
Minors in Texas arrested for their first offense of drinking and driving with any detectable amount of alcohol face severe penalties. The underage driver’s license is suspended for a period of 60-180 days.
- Fines: First-time underage drivers facing a DUI arrest must pay a fine up to $500.
- BAC Test Refusal: Refusing a BAC test as a minor results in a license suspension, or license denial if under legal driving age, for 180 days.
- DUI Class Requirement: Underage drivers convicted of drunk driving in Texas are required to attend an Alcohol Awareness Course. Parents of the underage driver may also be required to attend and successfully complete an alcohol awareness class.
- Community Service: Minors arrested for their first DUI serve 20-40 hours of community service.
Texas Drinking and Driving Laws
Drinking and driving in Texas is seen as serious misconduct. When given a driver’s license, a driver is required to follow driving laws and accept responsibility for his or her actions behind the wheel. Drinking and driving on Texas roadways leads to DWI convictions that include large fines and jail time. Repeat offenders of drunk driving may face up to a decade in state prison. Texas uses the serious legal penalties to defer drivers from drinking and driving.