Texas Drunk Driving Laws, Penalties, and Consequences

Learn about the penalties for a DWI/DUI conviction in Texas.

Texas officially uses the term “driving while intoxicated” (DWI) instead of “driving under the influence” (DUI). However, some people still use DWI and DUI interchangeably to refer to drunk or drugged driving.

Texas’s DWI laws prohibit all motorists from operating a motor vehicle:

  • with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more, or
  • while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.

Generally, you are considered “intoxicated” if you “lack the normal use of mental or physical faculties” as the result of ingesting alcohol, drug or any other substance.

Texas also has “zero tolerance” laws making it illegal for underage drivers (those under 21 years old) to get behind the wheel with any detectable amount of alcohol in their system.

Getting a DWI Without Actually Driving

In Texas, a motorist can get a DWI even without actually driving: The statute defines DWI as “operating” a vehicle while intoxicated or with a prohibited BAC. So while driving is sufficient for a conviction, it isn’t required.

Texas courts have said the term “operate” is very broad and includes any action to “affect the functioning” of a vehicle in a manner that “enables its use.”

Texas Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits and Per Se DUIs

A drunk driving offense based on BAC—as opposed to the driver’s level of impairment—is known as a “per se” DWI. The amount of alcohol a person must drink to reach the legal limit depends on a number of factors such as gender, body size, and number and strength of drinks.

Our BAC calculator and BAC table can give you an estimate of where your BAC might be at after a certain number of drinks. However, these are just approximations that don’t take into consideration all the factors that can affect BAC. If you’ve been drinking, it’s always best not to drive.

Texas DWI Penalties

Texas DWI penalties vary based on the circumstances of the case. But the range of allowable penalties depends, in large part, on how many prior convictions the offender has. Here are what the potential sentences generally look like for a first, second, and third DWI.

1st Offense2nd Offense 3rd Offense

Jail

72 hours to six months (12-month maximum with BAC of .15% or more)

30 days to 12 months

2 to 10 years

Fines

Up to $2,000 (or up to $4,000 with BAC .15% or more)

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)

Only as a condition of obtaining an “occupational license

1 year (with a prior conviction within 5 years)

1 year (with a prior conviction within 5 years)

Implied Consent and Refusing a Blood or Breath Test in Texas

Texas’s “implied consent” laws require all drivers lawfully arrested for a DWI to submit to a blood or breath test. Motorists who refuse testing face the following license suspensions periods.

1st Offense2nd offense3rd Offense

License Suspension

180 days

2 years

2 years

For purposes of determining what is a second or third refusal, prior DWI convictions, refusals, and failed BAC test (.08% or greater) within the past ten years are counted.

Plea Bargaining in Texas DUI Cases

If you get charged with a DWI in Texas, you might be hoping to get the charge dismissed altogether. However, unless the court throws out evidence that’s critical to prove the charge, it’s unlikely a prosecutor will agree to a complete dismissal.

But in some cases, a reduction to a “wet reckless” charge is possible. A wet reckless is just a reckless driving offense that involves drugs or alcohol.

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