Guide to Texas DUI Penalties and Laws

DWI Penalty in Texas

Did you know Texans are more likely to report that they got behind the wheel after drinking too much? According to the CDC, the rate of Texans who drive drunk is 2.1%, which is higher than the national average of 1.9%.

More Texans may get behind the wheel after having one too many, but it’s not because Texas has lenient DUI penalties.

The opposite is true.

Knowing the DUI penalties in the state of Texas can help you make better decisions about when to get behind the wheel. It could do more than save you money and community service time – it could save a life.

Every 20 minutes, someone in Texas is injured or killed as the result of a drunk driver – someone who may not have realized how much is too much both for themselves and in the eyes of the law.

Do you know Texas’s DUI penalties? Keep reading to learn what the true cost of driving under the influence means in Texas.

DWI/DUI Penalties in Texas

In any given year, over 1.5 million people in the United States are arrested for driving while under the influence. The risks of driving while under the influence are life-changing, with heavy legal consequences coming your way that could affect your finances, your career, or your freedom.

What is the legal alcohol limit in Texas?

Close to 30 people die in car accidents related to drunk driving, so it is no wonder that arrests for driving while intoxicated carry severe consequences.

In Texas, a DUI refers to “driving under the influence,” and it’s commonly referred to as a DWI, which stands for “driving while intoxicated.”

These acronyms represent the most common legal terms used to refer to drunk driving or impaired driving.

But what exactly is driving while intoxicated? A DWI occurs when you operate a vehicle with a BAC over .08, and if arrested for such an offense you could be looking at misdemeanor or felony charges.

When Might I Get a DUI?

Texas doesn’t allow local or state police to set up sobriety checkpoints.

If you’re arrested for a DUI, it’s because you were pulled over by an officer for a traffic violation or because the officer had sufficient reason to suspect you are under the influence.

Upon stopping a vehicle, an officer who suspects that a driver is under the influence may conduct a field sobriety test.

In most cases, a breathalyzer test is performed in the field, but some officers may use a blood test in more complicated cases to avoid false positives.

What Is the Legal Limit?

Texas has three legal blood alcohol concentration limits.

Your blood alcohol concentration measures how much alcohol is coursing through your veins at the time of the test.

The general limit is 0.08% blood alcohol content. What does that mean?

While the measurement is a hard limit, it doesn’t provide much direction regarding how much you can drink. Everyone metabolizes alcohol at a different rate and your height and weight impact your ability to hold a drink.

If you’re curious about your legal limit, visit NOLO’s weight chart.

According to NOLO’s calculations, a person who weighs 100 to 120 pounds can have two drinks and remain under the legal limit. Meanwhile, someone who weighs 140 to 160 pounds can have three drinks and legally drive.

What is the full list of legal limits?

  • Person over 21 driving a personal vehicle – 0.08%
  • Person over 21 driving a commercial vehicle – 0.04%
  • Person under 21 in any vehicle – 0.00%

Does Texas Have a Zero Tolerance Law?

In some states, merely appearing intoxicated is enough to issue a DUI regardless of your blood alcohol content measurement.

Convictions under the legal limit are the result of Texas’s zero-tolerance law. It’s designed to ensure those who are intoxicated but whose blood alcohol content doesn’t reflect their behavior are removed from the road and stops poor drivers from continuing bad habits.

Texas does not have a blanket zero-tolerance law.

However, Texas does apply zero tolerance to one area: underage drinking and driving.

If you’re under 21 years of age and are pulled over under suspicion of impaired driving, it doesn’t matter if your blood alcohol content is under the legal limit. Texas’s zero tolerance law means you will automatically be guilty of a DUI/DWI.

What Are Texas’s DUI Penalties?

DUI penalties are tiered according to:

  • Number of previous offenses
  • Blood alcohol content
  • Whether a child was present in the vehicle

First Offense

If it is your first offense and your blood alcohol was above 0.08 but below 0.15, then it will technically qualify as a Class B Misdemeanor.

If convicted, you will possibly receive either a fine of up to $2,000 and/or a jail sentence ranging from 3 to 180 days.

Your driver’s license will also be suspended for 90 to 365 days.

Those who blow above a 0.15 BAC will see an increase to a Class A Misdemeanor with a fine of up to $4,000 and one year in jail.

Second Offense DUI in Texas

Convicted of a second offense? The DUI penalties for a second conviction are in line with a Class A Misdemeanor.

You’ll receive a fine of up to $4,000 with the potential of a 30-day to 365-day jail sentence.

The most significant change is in license suspension: you will not be able to drive for a period of 180 days to up to two years.

Texas Third Offense DUI

Those convicted of a third offense are left with the Third Degree of Felony.

A Third Degree Felony is accompanied by a fine of up to $10,000 as well as the potential of two to 10 years in prison.

Felony convictions in the state of Texas also disqualify you from voting or owning a gun license.

Underage DUI in Texas

DUI penalties change under the Zero Tolerance Law in Texas.

First-time offenders under age 21 are convicted of a Class C misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500. Other punishments include:

  • Alcohol awareness classes
  • 20-40 hours of mandatory community service
  • 60 days license suspension

Second offenses are also Class C misdemeanors with the same penalties as a first-time offense. The primary difference is in the license suspension – second offenses are punishable with a 120 driver’s license suspension.

Open Alcohol Container

If you’re caught driving under the influence and carrying an open container of alcohol, you may be convicted of a DUI and open container, which is a Class B misdemeanor.

An additional fine of up to $500 may be levied and assessed with a minimum of 6 days in jail.

An open container-only violation is a Class C misdemeanor with a $500 fine and no jail time.

Carrying Children in the Car

The DUI penalties listed above are related to convictions where only an adult over age 21 is in the car.

Anyone under the influence who is also carrying a child passenger (under 15 years old) can also be charged with child endangerment.

DUI with child passenger convictions are punished with:

  • Up to $10,000 fine
  • Two years in state jail
  • 180 driver’s license suspension

Five Documents Your Texas DWI Lawyer Needs

The best way to know how to move forward from a DWI is to talk to your lawyer. There are five documents you will need to bring to get the best consultation possible:

  1. Record of arrests
  2. Witness information
  3. Medical records
  4. Criminal record
  5. Driving record

A breakdown of each of these documents and their importance can be found below.

Record of Arrests

Arrest records are documents that are created upon being arrested. They document the time, date, place, and occurrence of the arrest, and will provide important information about the crime that will be helpful for your lawyer.

Witness Information

If there were any witnesses to the crime, be sure to provide any contact information that you have for them, whether it’s a name, address, phone number, or even just a physical appearance. Statements from witnesses can be crucial to providing you with a strong defense in your case.

Medical Records

Medical records are important because there are a lot of factors that can contribute to a failed sobriety test. It’s important to show your medical records because they can go a long way toward proving your innocence. These records will show what medications you’re prescribed and the effects that they have on your ability to drive safely.

Criminal Record

One of the first things that the prosecution will look to use against you is your criminal record. Providing your Texas DWI lawyer with your criminal record can make a big difference in their ability to put up a strong defense in your case.

Driving Record

Another record that the prosecution could look to use against you, especially if you have previous offenses, is your driving record. It’s important to provide your driving so that you are aware of any fines or tickets you have. That way your record will be as clean as is possible.

Don’t Drink and Drive

DUIs come with all kinds of consequences and a fine may be the least of your worries – drunk drivers injure or kill another person every 20 minutes in Texas.

If you want to avoid a DUI and all DUI penalties, then don’t drink and drive.

But if it’s too late, don’t wait – find a DUI lawyer.

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