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Legal Drinking Limits in Texas: What Drivers Need to Know

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

Legal Drinking Limits in Texas: What Drivers Need to Know

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Most people can drink one cocktail, beer, or glass of wine at dinner without increasing driving risks. Beyond one drink, however, the line between sober and over the limit gets hazy. Everyone is different. Someone who doesn’t understand his or her own limits may face legal consequences.


Drinking and Driving Laws in Texas

Like most states, Texas considers a BAC (blood alcohol content) level of 0.08% or higher as legally intoxicated. The state caps legal commercial driving limits at 0.04% and recognizes a zero tolerance rule for underage drivers.

To legitimately arrest someone for DWI, an officer needs to demonstrate probable cause. An officer can ask a driver to submit to a BAC test or a field sobriety test based on reasonable suspicion of drunk driving (swerving, seeing an open container, seeing signs of impairment). Under implied consent laws, every driver on Texas roads agrees to submit to testing if asked. Both refusing a BAC test and failing a sobriety test give an officer enough probable cause to make an arrest.

How Much is Too Much?

Several factors affect alcohol intoxication and metabolism. The way someone “feels” after drinking is never a good indicator of legal limits. Some people can drink excessively without feeling drunk, while others can feel the effects of one drink. In general, men and women metabolize alcohol differently. Men’s bodies hold higher concentrations of the enzyme dehydrogenase, which processes alcohol. Muscle mass, blood volume, genetics, and weight can also affect absorption and metabolism rates.

In addition to physiological differences, the following factors may also affect alcohol impairment:

  • The amount of food consumed prior to and during drinking
  • Certain medications
  • Health conditions including depression, high blood pressure, and diabetes

With so many factors at play during a given day, individuals should take all alcohol metabolism charts as generalities. Women under 140 pounds may experience legal intoxication after as few as two drinks per hour. Women up to 200 pounds may experience legal intoxication around three or four drinks per hour. Men under 140 pounds may experience legal intoxication after two or three drinks per hour. Men up to 220 pounds may drink as many as four or five drinks per hour before experiencing legal intoxication. For reference, the size of a standard drink is defined as a 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

Intoxication Testing Methods

The most common forms of BAC testing include blood, breath, and urine tests. However, many officers rely on field sobriety tests as well. Sobriety tests require subjects to perform a series of tasks. The officer watches each activity for signs of impairment. Commonly used actions include standing on one leg, walking in a straight line toe-to-heel, and visually following an object moving across the field of vision.

Anyone can refuse a field sobriety test without consequences, but refusing a chemical test may lead to a DWI arrest. Officers administer the following chemical tests in the field and after making an arrest:

  • Breathalyzer tests. Breath alcohol concentrations directly correlate to blood concentrations, making breathalyzers a fairly accurate form of measurement. Some environmental factors, however, including vomiting within 20 minutes of the test, burping, or using toothache medicines can render breathalyzer results inaccurate.
  • Blood tests. One of the most accurate ways to measure BAC levels, officers may ask drivers to submit to a blood test as soon as possible after the stop. All drivers retain the right to seek a third party blood test within two hours of the stop. While most blood tests deliver accurate results, poor handling and testing practices may render the results invalid in court.
  • Urine tests. Testing urine provides less accuracy than either breath or blood testing because it also relies on a correlation to blood alcohol content. Factors such as the last time the person used the restroom, the amount of non-alcoholic liquid a person consumed, and processing differences may also skew test results.

Every driver must make the decision to refuse or submit to testing. Drivers can request a specific form of testing, but an officer may have the final say in the type of test used. Refusal to submit to testing in Texas results in an automatic license suspension.

DWI in Texas

In Texas, every DWI offense counts against a driver’s record. The state will consider DWIs from decades ago when determining penalties in DWI cases. For a first offense, drivers can face up to 180 days in jail, as much as $2,000 in fines, and up to a year-long license suspension. For a secondary offense, drivers may spend a year in prison, incur $4,000 in fines, and receive a license suspension of up to two years. The state of Texas does require ignition interlock devices in some DWI sentences.

Some factors may compound the penalties associated with DWI. DWI cases involving a BAC level of 0.15% or higher, accidents in which someone dies, children under 15, and extreme recklessness could lead to charges of aggravated DWI and extended penalties.

A DWI conviction can prevent individuals from obtaining certain jobs, traveling to work, and maintaining a normal social life. It can also raise insurance costs and lead to costly civil claims. Without an attorney, many drivers face the maximum sentences prescribed under the law. Defense attorneys assist their clients with temporary driving arrangements, ALR hearings for license suspensions, and criminal charges. While extreme caution is the best policy, anyone facing DWI charges needs an experienced defense attorney on his or her side.

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