Driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas is not a moving vehicle infraction; it is a crime under Texas penal Code 49.04, punishable by severe penalties.
Unlike states such as Wisconsin, where a first offense is considered a “civil infraction,” Texas takes a considerably harsher view of the crime and those who perpetrate it, beginning with a first offense.
Some facts you should know before drinking and driving, particularly if you are someone with limited financial resources begins with the potential cost.
A typical first offense can cost upward of $15,000, including legal fees. Add to that burden, the first offense can include from three days to one year in jail, and loss of driver’s license for periods up to a year.
Additionally, first offense fines may be assessed up to $2,000. Add to that, fines may be assessed by the judiciary of from $1,000 to 2,000 per year merely to retain a driver’s license.
Those who learned nothing from a first offense of DWI will find that a second offense holds a more expensive lesson. It may begin with a $4,000 fine, one month to a year in jail, loss of driver’s license for up to two years and an annual fine of from $1,000 to $2,000 for three years to retain a driver’s license once restored.
Habitual drunk drivers who are apprehended for a third time face severe penalties beginning with a $10,000 fine. Add to that, the probability of longer jail sentences from two to 10 years in prison. The driver’s license may be suspended for up to two years and an annual fee of from $1,000 to $2,000 for a period of three years to retain driving privileges once the license has been restored.
The DWI that gets the goat of most of the law-abiding public is the offense of DWI with a child passenger.
Even as a first offense, this crime is in a class by itself and deserves the special punishment guidelines it garners. A child is considered to be anyone less than 15 years of age.
The charge can be child endangerment and carries penalties of a fine of up to $10,000, up to two years in state jail and loss of driver’s license up to 6 months.
After two or more convictions for DWI, the judiciary will likely require the installation of a special ignition switch that prevents your vehicle from being operated if you’ve been drinking.
In Texas, the Blood Alcohol Concentration or Breath Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit for adults over 21 years of age is 0.08 percent.
For underage drinker/drivers, the BAC is 0.02 percent. This is considered zero tolerance.
Physical and mental impairment begins with the first drink. One’s sexual gender, weight, the amount of food one has consumed and the time span involved, determine the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol.
Two or three beers in the span of an hour can push the average size male over the BAC limit while most females and smaller people become impaired with less alcohol consumption.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, someone is injured or killed in an alcohol-related accident every 20 minutes in Texas.
Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it slows the functions of the central nervous system. Brain function is delayed, making a person unable to perform basic tasks normally.
Alcohol affects a person’s information-processing or cognitive skills, impairing decision-making functions. Additionally, psychomotor skills, also known as hand-eye coordination become retarded.
In a nutshell, consuming alcohol or any function-limiting drug before driving is moronic. Driving requires judgment, concentration, comprehension, visual acuity, coordination and unimpaired reaction time, all of which are limited or impaired by alcohol or drug ingestion. Add maturity to the “must list” for responsible vehicle operation.
In short, don’t drink and drive. Designate a sober driver before drinking any alcoholic beverage. Call a cab rather than risk driving after drinking. If possible, spend the night where you are and proceed when sober.
John Vander WERFF is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, with a decade in city and county law enforcement and 20 years with state police.