Texas DWI Laws & Penalties

Texas Drunk Driving Laws Explained in Easy to Understand Simple Terms

In Texas, the penalties for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) are structured to escalate with each subsequent offense, underscoring the state’s stringent stance against impaired driving.

Each conviction can also lead to increased insurance rates, mandatory education or rehabilitation programs, and installing ignition interlock devices at the driver’s expense. Texas law emphasizes the severe repercussions of impaired driving to protect its residents and encourage responsible driving habits​ (Law Office of Joseph Ruiz, PLLC)​​ (TxDOT)​​ (Divorce Attorney in Houston, TX)​.

Key Aspects of Texas DWI Laws:

Texas DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) laws encompass a wide range of regulations and penalties designed to deter impaired driving and promote public safety. Here are some key aspects of these laws based on comprehensive sources:

  • Adults: The legal BAC limit in Texas is 0.08% for drivers 21 years and older.
  • Commercial Drivers: A lower BAC limit of 0.04% applies to commercial vehicle drivers.
  • Minors: Texas enforces a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under 21, meaning any detectable amount of alcohol is illegal.

The penalties for DWI in Texas vary based on the number of offenses and other aggravating factors but generally include fines, jail or prison time, license suspension, and state fines upon sentencing. Enhanced penalties apply for high BAC levels or DWI with a child passenger.

Table of Contents

There is a lot to cover when it comes to a DWI offense in Texas, so we have provided you with a quick reference table of contents so you can jump to the section you need more information on or read through the entire page.

Penalties for a First Offense DWI in Texas

In Texas, the penalties for a first-offense DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) vary depending on several factors, including your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of arrest. Generally, a first DWI offense without aggravating factors is considered a Class B misdemeanor. However, if your BAC was 0.15% or higher, it escalates to a Class A misdemeanor.

For a first DWI conviction with a BAC less than 0.15%, you could face:

  • Fines up to $2,000,
  • Jail time ranging from 3 to 180 days,
  • Suspension of your driver’s license for 90 days to 12 months.

If your BAC was 0.15% or more, penalties would increase to:

  • Fines up to $4,000,
  • Jail time could extend up to one year,
  • Potential requirement to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.

Additionally, Texas imposes a three-year annual license surcharge ranging from $1,000 to $2,000. According to Texas’s implied consent laws, there’s also the possibility of administrative license revocation for refusing or failing a chemical test, with a 90-day suspension for a failed test or a 180-day suspension for refusal. First offenders may be eligible for an “occupational license” to drive under certain conditions during suspension.

Other consequences include a state fine assessed upon sentencing, which could be $3,000, $4,500, or $6,000. If an open container of alcohol is found in your vehicle, you could face an additional fine of up to $500. The long-term effects of a DWI conviction can also impact your work, housing, insurance premiums, and more, with potential increases in insurance costs by an average of $762 annually.

For specific cases, like driving with a child under 15, the offense is considered a state jail felony. Penalties include up to 2 years in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, and a possible driver’s license suspension for up to 2 years.

The Texas DWI laws are strict, and the impact of a DWI conviction can be significant, affecting various aspects of your life. If you’re facing a DWI charge, consulting with an experienced attorney might be beneficial to navigate the complexities of your case and minimize its impact on your future​ (dui.drivinglaws.org)​​ (TxDOT)​​ (Michael & Associates DWI Defense)​​ (Austin Hagee Law Firm)

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Penalties for a Second Offense DWI in Texas

For a second DWI offense in Texas, the legal ramifications intensify significantly compared to a first offense, marking a substantial escalation in both the severity of penalties and the complexity of navigating the legal aftermath. Here’s a comprehensive overview based on various sources:

  • A mandatory minimum jail sentence of 3 days, which can extend up to one year,
  • Fines that can reach up to $4,000,
  • License suspension ranging from 180 days to two years, and
  • The requirement is to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on any vehicle the offender operates​ (Austin Hagee Law Firm)​.

Beyond the basic penalties, individuals may also encounter:

Failing or refusing a chemical test triggers immediate administrative penalties, which include:

A second DWI offense permanently marks an individual’s criminal record, barring eligibility for expunction or sealing. This permanence can profoundly affect employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Given these stakes, those accused often seek legal representation to navigate the complexities of the charge, explore potential defenses (such as questioning the legality of the traffic stop or the accuracy of sobriety tests), and to argue for reduced charges or penalties​ (Michael & Associates DWI Defense)​​ (Austin Hagee Law Firm)​.

While a second DWI typically remains a misdemeanor unless aggravating factors are present, certain circumstances can elevate the charge to a felony level. These include being arrested for DWI with a child passenger, causing an accident resulting in serious injury (intoxication assault), or causing a death (intoxication manslaughter), each carrying significantly harsher penalties, including lengthy prison sentences and substantial fines​ (Thiessen Law Firm)​.

Given the complexity and severity of penalties for a second DWI offense in Texas, individuals facing such charges are strongly advised to seek experienced legal counsel. This not only aids in navigating the immediate legal process but also helps mitigate the long-term consequences that follow a conviction.

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Penalties for a Third Offense DWI in Texas

A third DWI offense in Texas is a significant legal issue with severe consequences, as it is classified as a third-degree felony. The penalties for a third DWI conviction encompass a broad spectrum of fines, incarceration, community service, and long-term implications on your driving privileges and overall lifestyle.

Given the gravity of a third DWI offense in Texas and its potential to impact every facet of your life, seeking qualified legal counsel is imperative to navigate the legal system and work towards the most favorable outcome possible.

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Penalties for an Underage DWI in Texas

In Texas, the penalties for underage DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) and DUI (Driving Under the Influence) are designed to enforce zero tolerance for alcohol consumption by minors. Here’s a breakdown of what minors and their guardians can expect in terms of legal repercussions:

Underage DUI Penalties:
Underage DWI Penalties:

For minors aged 17 or older with a BAC of 0.08 or greater, the penalties align more closely with those for adult DWI offenses:

  • Fines: Up to $2,000,
  • Jail Time: Between three to 180 days,
  • License Suspension: From 90 days to one year​ (Smith & Vinson Law Firm)​.
Additional Considerations for Underage Offenses:
  • Zero Tolerance Policy: Texas enforces a zero-tolerance policy for minors regarding alcohol. This means any detectable amount of alcohol in a minor’s system while driving is illegal​ (Cofer & Connelly, PLLC)​​ (Legal Beagle)​.
  • Implied Consent Law: Minors are also subject to Texas’s Implied Consent Law, meaning by driving, they’ve consented to BAC testing. Refusal to undergo such testing can lead to automatic license suspension for 180 days on the first refusal, and two years for subsequent refusals​ (Cofer & Connelly, PLLC)​​ (Michael & Associates DWI Defense)​.
Felony Charges:
  • Second Underage DWI: Classified as a Class A Misdemeanor, with up to a $4,000 fine, one year in jail, and up to two years driver’s license suspension​ (Cofer & Connelly, PLLC)​.
  • Third or Subsequent Offenses: These are treated as third-degree felonies, with fines up to $10,000, two to ten years in prison, and driver’s license suspension for 180 days to two years​ (Cofer & Connelly, PLLC)​.

For minors, the consequences of DUI or DWI not only include immediate legal penalties but can also impact future opportunities, such as employment and education. Given the complexities of Texas law, it’s advisable for individuals facing such charges to seek legal representation to navigate the proceedings and explore all available defense options.

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CDL DWI Penalties

In Texas, DWI penalties for commercial drivers holding a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) are particularly severe due to the higher safety standards expected from those operating commercial vehicles. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Legal BAC Limit for CDL Holders: The legal limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for CDL holders is 0.04%, which is half the limit for non-commercial drivers (0.08%). This lower threshold means that even a small amount of alcohol can lead to a DWI charge for a commercial driver​ (The Clark Law Firm)​​ (Deandra Grant Law)​.
  • First DWI Offense: A first-time DWI offense for CDL holders is classified as a Class B misdemeanor. Penalties include up to 180 days in jail, a fine of up to $2,000, and a one-year disqualification of the CDL. If the offense involves transporting hazardous materials, the disqualification extends to three years​ (The Clark Law Firm)​​ (Deandra Grant Law)​.
  • Second DWI Offense: A second DWI offense leads to a lifetime disqualification of the CDL, although it may be reinstated after 10 years under specific conditions. The penalties for non-commercial drivers for subsequent offenses also apply, and they can include additional fines, jail time, and driver’s license suspension​ (Deandra Grant Law)​​ (Cofer & Connelly, PLLC)​.
  • Refusing to Submit to Chemical Testing: If a CDL holder refuses to undergo a breath or blood test, their CDL will be disqualified for one year for the first refusal, regardless of whether a DWI conviction occurs. A second or subsequent refusal results in a disqualification of the CDL for life​ (Deandra Grant Law)​.

The consequences of a DWI with a CDL go beyond legal penalties. Employment opportunities may be significantly limited due to employers’ hesitance to hire drivers with DWI convictions on their record, and insurance premiums are likely to rise substantially.

Given the severe impact a DWI can have on your career as a commercial driver, seeking legal representation from an experienced attorney is crucial to navigate the complexities of the case and explore potential defenses or plea options. Defenses might include questioning the accuracy of blood or breath tests, challenging the probable cause for the traffic stop, or disputing the administration of field sobriety tests​ (Cofer & Connelly, PLLC)​.

For CDL holders, the stakes couldn’t be higher, making it vital to address a DWI charge with the seriousness it deserves.

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Aggravated DWI Circumstances

In Texas, an aggravated DWI, also known as a DWI with aggravating factors, incurs more severe penalties than a standard DWI. The following are considered aggravating factors that can lead to an aggravated DWI charge:

  • Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Over 0.15%: A BAC significantly above the legal limit can result in steeper charges, elevating a first-time DWI to a Class A misdemeanor with penalties including up to one year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine​ (Thiessen Law Firm)​​ (The Clark Law Firm)​​ (Randall Isenberg)​.
  • Child Passenger: Driving while intoxicated with a child under the age of 15 in the vehicle can be charged as a state jail felony, punishable by up to two years in jail and a maximum $10,000 fine​ (Thiessen Law Firm)​​ (Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard)​​ (The Clark Law Firm)​.
  • Repeat Offender: Previous DWI convictions can lead to increased penalties and more severe charges, with a third DWI automatically being a felony ​ (Thiessen Law Firm)​.
  • Intoxication Assault: Causing serious bodily injury while driving intoxicated is considered a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine​ (The Clark Law Firm)​.
  • Intoxication Manslaughter: Causing the death of another while intoxicated is a second-degree felony, with penalties including a maximum 20-year prison term and a fine of up to $10,000​ (The Clark Law Firm)​​ (Randall Isenberg)​.
  • Open Container: Driving with an open container of alcohol in the car can lead to a mandatory minimum six-day jail term​ (The Clark Law Firm)​.

Penalties for aggravated DWI in Texas can vary significantly based on the specific circumstances but may include substantial fines, long prison sentences, driver’s license suspension, mandatory alcohol addiction treatment programs, installation of an ignition interlock device on the offender’s vehicle, and a permanent DWI conviction on the offender’s record. In cases of death or injury, intoxicated manslaughter or intoxicated assault charges can apply, leading to even harsher penalties​ (Randall Isenberg)​.

Facing an aggravated DWI charge in Texas is a serious matter that can have long-lasting consequences on your life. It’s vital to seek experienced legal representation to navigate the complexities of your case and explore all possible defense strategies.

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Additional Consequences

In Texas, beyond the immediate legal penalties associated with a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) conviction—such as fines, jail time, and driver’s license suspension—there are several additional consequences that can significantly impact an individual’s life. These consequences underscore the seriousness with which Texas treats DWI offenses and highlight the far-reaching effects that such a conviction can have on one’s personal and professional life:

  • Increased Auto Insurance Premiums: A DWI conviction often leads to higher car insurance rates. Insurers may consider a person convicted of DWI a high-risk driver, resulting in increased insurance premiums or even the possibility of being dropped by the insurance company​ (Thiessen Law Firm)​.
  • Employment Challenges: Certain jobs, particularly those involving driving or operating heavy machinery, may become off-limits to someone with a DWI conviction. Additionally, a DWI can affect future job prospects as many employers conduct background checks before hiring​ (Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard)​.
  • Professional License Impact: Individuals in professions requiring state licensing, such as lawyers, doctors, teachers, and nurses, may face disciplinary actions or license revocation upon a DWI conviction. This can devastate professional reputation and career longevity​ (Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard)​​ (The Clark Law Firm)​.
  • Travel Restrictions: Some countries, notably Canada, have strict entry requirements and may deny entry to individuals with a DWI conviction. This can affect personal and professional travel plans​ (Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard)​.
  • Education Opportunities: A DWI conviction can affect college admission processes, scholarship eligibility, and participation in collegiate activities. Some educational institutions have policies restricting admission for individuals with criminal records, including DWI​ (Randall Isenberg)​.
  • Permanent Criminal Record: A DWI conviction typically results in a permanent criminal record, which can be a barrier to various aspects of life, including housing, education, and employment opportunities​ (Randall Isenberg)​.
  • Social Stigma: The social consequences of a DWI conviction can be significant. Individuals may face judgment from family, friends, and the community, which can lead to isolation and impact mental health​ (The Clark Law Firm)​.
  • Financial Strain: Beyond the immediate fines and legal fees, a DWI conviction can lead to long-term financial burdens, including the costs associated with license reinstatement, court-ordered classes or treatment programs, and the aforementioned increase in insurance premiums​ (The Clark Law Firm)​.

These additional consequences of a DWI conviction in Texas highlight the importance of understanding the law, the potential for life-altering impacts, and the value of legal representation when facing DWI charges.

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DWI Education Program

In Texas, DWI education program requirements are part of court-ordered education for individuals convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI). These programs aim to reduce the likelihood of repeat offenses by educating offenders about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. Participants are required to complete the program as a condition of their sentence, which could include an Alcohol Education Program for Minors, Drug Offense Education, DWI Education, or a DWI Intervention Program. Each program targets specific aspects of substance abuse and its impact on driving abilities, emphasizing rehabilitation and prevention​ (TDLR Texas)​.

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Ignition Interlock Requirements

In Texas, your driver’s license must be valid and not suspended, revoked, or canceled to obtain a restricted interlock license for operating a vehicle with an ignition interlock device (IID). You must submit the restricted interlock license fee and pay all reinstatement fees. Department-certified service centers must do court-ordered IID installations. Removal of the IID is allowed only with a court order or a vendor removal form signed by a judge or county clerk. Check the Texas DPS website​ (Texas Department of Public Safety)​for more details.

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Implied Consent Law

Texas’s Implied Consent Law mandates that anyone who drives in the state automatically consents to chemical testing (blood, breath, or urine) if arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI). Refusing to submit to testing can result in automatic license suspension, starting from 180 days for a first refusal. The law aims to facilitate the prosecution of DWI offenses by ensuring evidence of intoxication can be collected.

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Driver License Hearings

If you’re arrested for a DWI and refuse or fail a chemical test in Texas, you can request an Administrative License Revocation (ALR) hearing to contest your driver’s license suspension. This request must be made within 15 days of the arrest. The ALR hearing is a separate civil process from the criminal DWI charges and solely determines whether your driving privileges will be suspended. It’s conducted by the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) and not in a criminal court.

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DWI Lawyers

Finding a highly regarded DWI lawyer is crucial for those facing DWI charges in Texas. Trey Porter Law, for instance, is recognized for its extensive experience and success in handling DWI cases. The firm’s approach combines aggressive defense strategies with a deep understanding of Texas DWI laws, aiming to achieve the best possible outcomes for its clients. Researching and consulting with well-reviewed attorneys specializing in DWI cases is advisable to find the best representation tailored to your specific needs.

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Additional Texas DWI Resources
  • Texas DWI First Offense – Detailed first offense information, including punishments after a first offense DWI in Texas.
  • Texas DWI Classes – Get signed up to complete your required DWI class online today.
  • Texas SR22 Insurance – Learn everything you need to know about Texas SR22 filing requirements with the DMV and find out how you can save hundreds of dollars each year on your Texas SR22 insurance.
  • Texas DWI Lawyers – Contact one of our Texas DWI lawyers today to discuss your pending DWI case.
  • Texas Bail Bond Agents – Contact a Texas bail bond agent to get out of jail now.
  • Texas Non-owner Insurance – If you need an SR-22 filing, but don’t own a vehicle, you need to get a non-owner policy.