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  • DUI & DWI in Texas

    Introduction

    There is no “right side” of a DWI conviction―you’re either the victim or the offender―but if you find yourself on the side wearing handcuffs, you’re going to need some help.

    Texas DWI Defined

    In Texas, driving while intoxicated (DWI) means drunk driving, and the state uses your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to determine whether you're too intoxicated to operate a motor vehicle.

    Below are the state's BAC limits:

    • 21 years old or older: 0.08%
    • Commercial drivers: 0.04%
    • Younger than 21 years old: Any detectable amount.

    Alcohol can affect you based on the number of drinks you’ve had, your body weight, and even your gender. Check out the TX blood alcohol percentage charts to learn more.

    Additional Drug and Alcohol Crimes

    Mostly, DWI crimes are related to your BAC when operating a motor vehicle and certain other circumstances (as you’ll see below). However, officers can arrest you for other alcohol-related crimes involving your vehicle.

    For example, it’s illegal to have an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of your vehicle if you’re driving or parked on a public highway (Texas defines the “passenger area” as the area designed for people to sit in while traveling).

    A simple open container violation results in a maximum $500 fine and a Class C misdemeanor. However, if you’re arrested for DWI and open container, you’ll get a Class B misdemeanor and a minimum of 6 days in jail.

    For more information on other kinds of DWI laws, check out Title 10, Chapter 49 of the state’s penal code.

    Understand Your DWI Penalties

    TX DWI penalties are based on factors like age, license type, and other circumstances (such as having other passengers in the vehicle, or horrific events like death).

    Common DWI penalties you can expect include:

    • Fines and surcharges (also tack on court costs and lawyer fees).
    • License suspension or revocation.
    • Community service.
    • Imprisonment (even for a first offense).
    • DWI education and intervention programs.
    • More expensive car insurance, depending on your provider.

    DWI Penalties: Minors

    TX DWI laws distinguish anyone younger than 21 years old as a minor.

    Minors and Implied Consent

    Driving on Texas roads implies you give law enforcement consent to check your breath or blood for the presence of alcohol or other drugs. The TX DMV will suspend your license if you refuse a breath or blood test.

    • First offense: 180 days
    • Second/subsequent offenses: 2 years

    Don’t have a license yet? The DMV will delay your driving privileges the same number of days or years.

    Minors and DWI

    Like many states, Texas has a Zero Tolerance Law for minors and alcohol; this means drivers younger than 21 years old can’t operate motor vehicles with any amount of alcohol or drugs in their systems.

    For a first offense, you face:

    • License suspension not to exceed 2 years. *
    • Up to a $500 fine.
    • An Alcohol Education Program at least 12 hours long (see below).
    • An additional 180 days of license suspension if you don’t complete the Alcohol Education program.
    • 90 days of license suspension if your judge gives you community service. This means you’ll also have an ignition interlock device (see below).

    * Generally, a second DWI offense brings 120 days of license suspension, and a third offense gets you 180 days.

    Expect to also pay fines, court costs, and legal fees, should your parents hire an attorney for you.

    Minors and Other Alcohol Offenses

    Pretty much any involvement you have with alcohol can affect your driving privileges in Texas―including non-driving alcohol offenses.

    Examples of non-driving alcohol offenses include:

    • Purchasing or attempting to purchase alcohol.
    • Lying about your age in an attempt to obtain alcohol.
    • Presenting a falsified document stating that you’re 21 years old in an attempt to obtain alcohol.
    • Consuming alcohol.
    • Possessing alcohol.
    • Public intoxication.

    Penalties for these offenses are as follows:

    • First offense: License suspension for 30 days.
    • Second offense: License suspension for 60 days.
    • Third offense: License suspension for 180 days.

    Based on your situation (and possibly even your age), your judge also might order the Alcohol Education Program and community service.

    DWI Penalties: Adults

    Just like it does for minors, Texas assigns DWI penalties for drivers 21 years old or older according to the offense number and other situation-specific factors.

    Offenses: DWI Alcohol or Drugs

    First Offense

    • Up to a $2,000 fine.
    • Jail time between 3 days and 180 days.
    • License suspension for up to 2 years.
    • Annual surcharge up to $2,000 for 3 years to keep your license.
    • DWI intervention or education program (see below).
    • Possible ignition interlock device (see below).

    Second Offense

    • Up to a $4,000 fine.
    • Jail time between 1 month and 1 year.
    • License suspension up to 2 years.
    • Annual surcharge of up to $2,000 for 3 years to keep your license.
    • DWI intervention or education program (see below).
    • Possible ignition interlock device (see below).

    Third Offense

    • Up to a $10,000 fine.
    • State prison time between 2 years and 10 years.
    • License suspension up to 2 years.
    • Annual surcharge of up to $2,000 for 3 years to keep your license.
    • DWI intervention or education program (see below).
    • Possible ignition interlock device (see below).

    DWI with a Child Passenger

    If you’re drunk driving with a child younger than 15 years old in your vehicle, you face:

    • Up to a $10,000 fine.
    • Jail time up to 2 years.
    • License suspension for 180 days.

    Extreme DWI Crimes

    All DWI offenses are serious, but some are extremely grave, such as intoxication assault and intoxication manslaughter.

    We’ve outlined some details about the serious crimes below; please refer to Chapter 10 of the Texas Drivers Handbook for more information specific to your situation.

    Intoxication Assault

    You can be charged with intoxication assault if, while drunk driving, you cause serious bodily injury to another person.

    For these purposes, Texas considers serious bodily injury to be an injury that causes:

    • A significant risk of death.
    • Serious and permanent disfigurement or loss.
    • Damage that impairs function of a body part or organ.

    If you’re convicted, you’ll have a 3rd drgree felony.

    Intoxication Manslaughter

    As the name suggests, intoxication manslaughter involves killing another human being while you’re operating a motor vehicle under the influence.

    If you’re convicted, you’ll have a 2nd degree felony.

    Commercial Drivers and DWI

    The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) states that any commercial driver operating a commercial vehicle with a BAC of 0.04% or higher is considered to be driving under the influence.

    If you’re a CDL holder and you either refuse a chemical test or take one and have a BAC of―

    • 0.04% in your commercial vehicle
    • 0.08% or higher in any vehicle
    ―your CDL is disqualified for 1 year. If you drive a commercial vehicle placarded for hazardous materials, the penalty is 3 years.

    Visit the FMCSA’s Disqualification of Drivers for specific information.

    Other DWI Penalties

    Chemical Test Refusal Penalties

    All drivers in Texas are subject to implied consent, which means that if you drive, you’ve implied your consent to a chemical test if law enforcement suspects you’re drunk or otherwise impaired.

    If you refuse a chemical test (often a blood or breath test), law enforcement can enforce Administrative License Revocation (ALR), which is a type of license suspension unrelated to your other possible DWI penalties.

    Chemical test refusals can lead to license suspension between 90 days and 2 years for adults (for drivers under 21 years old, see the “DWI Penalties: Minors” section above), but here’s how chemical test refusals and ALR usually play out:

    • You refuse a chemical test.
    • The officer takes your driver’s license and issues you a temporary driving permit.
    • You have 15 days to request a hearing, after which any hearing request will be denied.
    • If you don’t request a hearing, your license suspension kicks in 40 days after the arrest. (Sometimes, missing or delayed paperwork is taken into consideration.)
    • You’ll eventually pay a $125 fee to get your license back.

    The State Office of Administrative Hearings handles the hearings, and you can request one using the state’s ALR Hearing Request page. Allow 120 days to receive the date, time, and location of your hearing.

    If you’re found guilty, you can appeal the verdict. Just send a file-stamped, clerk-certified copy of your appeal petition to the address below within 30 days of your suspension:

    • Department of Public Safety
    • Enforcement and Compliance Service
    • P.O. Box 4087
    • Austin, TX 78773-0320

    Learn more about the appeals process, including appellate court decisions, at the state’s Appeal and Administrative Hearing Decision page.

    DWI Intervention and Education Programs

    Texas provides several alcohol intervention and education programs via the Texas Department of State Health Services.

    Your judge will order the one that’s right for you. We’ve outlined some facts below, but you can call the DSHS at (800) 832-9623 to find a list of approved courses.

    DWI Education Program

    The TX DWI Education program is designed for first-time offenders who are receiving probation. The program focuses on how alcohol and drugs affect the body, mind, and driving abilities; TX DWI laws; and substance abuse and dependency.

    The course is 12 hours long, and drivers must complete it within 180 days of the date probation was granted.

    Learn more about enrollment at DWI Education Program.

    DWI Intervention Program

    The DWI Intervention Program is for repeat offenders―those who’ve had previous DWI offenses.

    As you can imagine, the Intervention Program dives a little deeper, covering topics like lifestyle issues and self-esteem; alcoholism and chemical dependency; and support groups and processes like Al-Anon, 12-Step, and relapse prevention.

    The course is 32 hours long, and if you fail to complete it, TX will revoke your license until you do.

    Alcohol Education Program for Minors

    Generally, the Alcohol Education Program for Minors is for minors who’ve gotten any DWI or DUI offenses.

    The program’s curriculum teaches alcohol awareness. Students learn about the relationship between alcohol and drugs and driving; societal issues related to drugs and alcohol; and patterns that lead to or indicate abuse and addiction.

    Sometimes, a judge will substitute the program with community service, usually anywhere from 8 hours to 12 hours, but failure to complete the program (or the community service) within 90 days of the conviction leads to 6 months of license suspension.

    Find out more about enrolling at Alcohol Education Program for Minors.

    Ignition Interlock Device

    Your judge will determine whether you have to get an ignition interlock device (IID); if so, the court will send a notice to the TX DPS. You’ll also receive a restricted interlock license with the “N” restriction. You will have 30 days to have the device installed before the DPS cancels your license.

    Before allowing you to get an IID, the DPS makes sure that:

    • Your current driver’s license isn’t suspended or revoked.
    • You’ve paid the necessary fees. These include the $10 fee for the restricted interlock license and the license reinstatement fee (see below).

    You must have your IID installed by an approved devices and installation location. Please visit the Regulatory Services Division to find one near you.

    SR-22: Car Insurance and Proof of Financial Responsibility

    Texas requires DWI offenders to file proof of financial responsibility, often called an SR-22 certificate. SR-22 isn’t a form of car insurance, but it does provide the DPS with proof you’re carrying the state’s minimum liability coverage.

    SR-22 must be on file with the DPS for 2 years from the date of your DWI conviction. The state does not accept a regular insurance policy document or card. It must be an SR-22 Financial Responsibility Insurance Certificate.

    If your SR-22 is cancelled or you allow it to lapse, the DPS will suspend your driving privileges and vehicle registration.

    Most auto insurance carriers offer SR-22, but if you need help finding one, the TX DPS recommends visiting the Texas Department of Insurance.

    Lower Your Car Insurance Rates

    Even after it’s all said and done, you might still experience “penalties” in the form of higher car insurance rates. Once your provider takes a look at your driving report and sees the conviction, they’ll probably increase your rates once it’s time to renew your policy.

    However, you can try to get the lowest coverage rates possible when you shop around with other car insurance providers.

    HINT: Before you contact any car insurance providers, obtain your driving history so you’ll know what you’re up against―or what’s working in your favor.

    When to Hire a DWI Attorney

    When it comes to DWI, don’t leave it to chance―start looking for an experienced DWI lawyer as soon as you can.

    As you compare DWI attorneys, keep these tips in mind:

    • Look for experienced DWI lawyers (those who already have a few successful cases under their belts) who specialize in TX DUI laws.
    • Ask the attorney about their past DWI cases. Did the lawyer help the client get the minimum penalties? Were any penalties waived? What about obtaining limited driving privileges? Also, how does the lawyer think you’ll fare, given your specific circumstances?

    Applying for an Occupational License

    You already know you can get limited driving privileges once you satisfy your DWI penalties like license suspension and fees, but what if you need to drive while your license is still suspended?

    That’s where an occupational license comes in handy.

    Sometimes called a restricted license or hardship license, an occupational license allows you to drive to and from certain locations while your license is suspended. Usually, these places include school, work, and trips related to essential household duties.

    To obtain an occupational license:

    • Make your request to the county or district court handling your case.
    • Obtain a court order and bring it―along with other items such as the SR-22 form―to the DPS. (You can use this court order as a driver’s license for 30 days after the judge signs it.)
    • Pay the $10 fee for your occupational driver license.
    • Pay your reinstatement fees. See below.

    Unfortunately, occupational licenses aren’t available for CDL holders.

    Please read the state’s instructions on obtaining an occupational license before you head to the courthouse.

    Reinstate Your TX Driver’s License

    Reinstating your TX driver’s license after a DWI conviction is fairly straightforward, though by no means quick and easy.

    Basically, you must:

    • Complete your license suspension or revocation.
    • Pay your DWI fines and other court costs.
    • Complete your jail sentence or community service hours.
    • Complete the DWI Education Program, DWI Intervention Program, or Alcohol Education Program for Minors.
    • Pay all applicable license reinstatement and maintenance fees (see below).

    License Reinstatement Fees and Other Surcharges

    You will face a variety of fees and surcharges related to license reinstatement and maintenance, and some of these depend on your age and circumstances.

    For example, everyone must pay a $125 fee for license reinstatement after an Administrative License Revocation (ALR), which can happen whenever you fail or refuse to submit to a chemical test.

    You also have the annual surcharges associated with the Driver Responsibility Program. These are the surcharges listed above under “DWI Penalties: Adults” and can range from $1,000 to $2,000 each year for 3 years.

    Want to pay online? By providing your driver’s license number, date of birth, and Social Security number, you can use the state’s Check Driving Eligibility & Check Reinstatement Fees online service.

    For any other questions, please contact your DPS.

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