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A Guide to DWI Laws in Texas

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Texas may be known as a law and order state. But when it comes to drunk driving infractions, Texans have a statistically high disregard for following the rules. Sadly, Texas outpaces every other state in the nation for number of alcohol related traffic fatalities according to the 2018 Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Ratings. Every twenty minutes, someone is hurt or killed in a drunk driving incident. According to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, alcohol figures into roughly 38.1% of all vehicular deaths. Men are significantly more at risk than women for dying in a drunk driving accident and nearly a third of those killed are under the age of 21.

If those statistics aren’t reason enough to always drive sober, you should also know that Texas does reflect its law and order reputation when it comes to drunk driving penalties.

If you are arrested in Texas for driving while intoxicated (DWI), you would be best served by seeking counsel from an attorney who specializes in defending DWI cases. An attorney can help you manage the complexities of your DWI arrest and potentially minimize the multitude of penalties you face under Texas law.

The penalties for drunk driving generally fall into six categories:

1. License suspension
2. Fines
3. Prison time
4. Ignition interlock devices
5. Probation

License Suspension

If you are arrested for driving drunk in Texas, you are almost certain to lose your driver’s license for some period of time. In most instances, the officer requires you to surrender your license immediately upon your arrest. However, if you provide a specimen of blood, you are permitted to keep your license until the results of your BAC are received by the Department of Public Safety. Once a positive result is received, the Department will send a suspension notice and temporary permit to drive, at which time you have a limited number of days to request a hearing and appear in court to maintain your license. It is imperative you contact an attorney immediately upon receiving such a request so you understand the applicable time limits.  In all other cases (refusal or breath above .08), this clock begins to tick immediately upon arrest for DWI or other intoxication related offenses.

It is in your best interest to have a lawyer present with you for your hearing. Even with legal representation, it is likely your license will be suspended, but the potential for a shorter suspension improves if you have counsel. The length of your suspension time will be influenced by such factors as your blood alcohol level (BAC) at the time of your arrest and your DWI history. Second and third DWIs result in longer suspension times.  If you refused to provide a specimen of your breath or blood, the suspension periods range as follows:

Offense Level Suspension Period
First Offense 180 Days
Second or More Offense 2 Years

If you provided a specimen of your breath or blood, the suspension period ranges as follows:

Offense Level Suspension Period
First Offense 90 Days
Second or More Offense 1 Year

However, these periods are reduced for minors who provided a specimen, with first offenders only facing a 60 day suspension, and only 120 days for second time offenders.

In any case, you will be required to attend alcohol education classes as a result of your DWI.

If you hold a Texas Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and have been accused and arrested for DWI or other drunk driving offenses, you are facing increased penalties and potentially lifetime disqualification. Someone with a CDL should contact an attorney immediately for advice and assistance regarding the process for attempting to maintain your licensing.

Criminal Fines

Texas law establishes high fines in the for DWI convictions. The same factors that affect license suspension also apply to fines: higher BAC and prior DWI convictions mean higher fines, which for a first DWI offense can be as high as $3,000. Second, offenders and those with a BAC of 0.15 or higher may be facing fines up to $6,000. In addition, you will be assessed a vehicle towing fee, which can amount to several hundred dollars.

On a positive note, the Texas Legislature officially repealed the mandatory surcharge assessment on a person convicted of DWI. In addition, the repeal was made retroactive and applies to any surcharge pending on the effective date, regardless of whether the surcharge was imposed before that date. If, for any reason, you believe your license is still being held under the old laws regarding surcharges, call an attorney immediately for advice and assistance in determining whether your license is eligible.

Prison Terms

A first conviction for DWI can result in jail time, ranging from 72 hours to a maximum of six months.  For second offenses, jail time of up to two years may be imposed. Third offenses carry even higher penalties: two to ten years in prison.

If you are driving drunk and cause an accident that results in serious harm, you will be charged with intoxication assault, a third degree felony. If someone is killed during the accident, you will be charged with intoxication manslaughter, a second degree felony. If you are found guilty of either of these charges, your chances of spending time in prison increase exponentially. These offenses are also likely to result in years spent on probation and the requirement to perform many, many hours of community service.

Ignition Interlock Devices

If you are convicted of a second or subsequent DWI, the state will require you to install an Ignition Interlock Device on your vehicle. These devices require you to pass a test (similar to a breathalyzer test) before your car will start, and will require you to be retested periodically for the entire time your engine is on. Depending on the type of IID the court orders you to install (some have cameras and GPS tracking, for example), the cost of having an IID in your car can run up to $100 a month. The amount of time you are required to have an IID is, once again, mitigated by the particular details of your case. Legal removal of the device can only be accomplished by court order. Failing an IID test and tampering with your IID are violations of the terms of your sentencing and can result in permanent revocation of your license.

Probation

Not only will you be required, in most cases, to maintain an IID and pay a fine and court costs, but many cases may result in DWI probation, which has many associated tasks and costs. DWI probation (or deferred adjudication) typically requires the client to pay a monthly supervisory fee (which increases depending on whether the charge is a misdemeanor or felony and the county); perform community service hours which increase depending on the level of offense; check in periodically (generally monthly sometimes more when there are aggravating factors) with a probation officer; participate in DWI education courses (which also cost money!); submit to some sort of drug and alcohol evaluation, and participate in any treatment recommendations made pursuant to these reports; refrain entirely from consuming alcohol and possessing a firearm (not to mention you usually have to pay for your own drug test fees); and some courts may also require participating in Alcoholics Anonymous or payments to anti-drunk driving groups or victims funds. Needless to say, probation is no walk in the park and can cost an individual a substantial amount of money to avoid jail or prison time.

Stricter Insurance Regulations

It’s probably become painfully obvious that driving drunk can be an expensive proposition. One of the longest-lasting and most expensive consequences of a DWI conviction is the toll it will take on your auto insurance rates. It may be harder to find a company willing to insure you after your conviction, since you will be considered a high-risk driver. You can expect your insurance rates to go up by at least a third, depending on the details of your offense. Maintaining a spotless driving record for many years following your conviction may bring your rates back down, but it’s important to know that your DWI conviction will remain on your record forever.

In addition to higher rates, a DWI conviction will also affect your insurance in another, lesser-known way. DWI offenders are required by law to file something called an SR22 certificate with the Texas Department of Safety. While sometimes confusingly referred to as SR22 insurance, an SR22 certificate isn’t insurance and doesn’t protect you in any way. It is simply proof that you are carrying insurance that meets the state’s minimum standard. Your insurance company will file this certificate for you when they issue your new policy.

The cost of filing an SR22 in Texas is nominal compared to many of the other fees associated with DWI, but it can add up depending on the number of years you are required to file one. Be aware that your insurance company may require you to pay for your auto insurance policy annually in one lump sum—you’ll forfeit the convenience of monthly installment billing. But the most important thing you need to know about your SR22 certificate is that your insurance company is required by law to report any lapse in your insurance coverage to the Texas Department of Safety. Once notified, the TDS will automatically revoke your license. At the very least, you will be required to pay another license reinstatement fee in order to drive legally. So paying your insurance premiums on time is essential when you carry an SR22.

If you’ve had your calculator out, you can see how quickly the financial burdens of a DWI conviction add up. But there is some leeway in the law. Hiring an experienced DWI attorney offers you your best chance of a favorable outcome in court and minimizes the risks to your finances and freedom if you are convicted.