Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is one of the more common charges people face in Texas. People get pulled over and arrested every day for having had too much to drink before they got behind the wheel. People ranging from high school students to skilled professionals find themselves accused of drunk driving and at risk of a criminal record and a suspended license.
Despite DWI being a common offense, there is still a lot of confusion about what actually constitutes a DWI. Some people will get arrested and charged because chemical testing shows that they are legally intoxicated during a traffic stop or at the scene of a crash. Other people will get arrested even if they don’t meet the criteria for legal intoxication because they are clearly under the influence while driving.
What is legal intoxication?
In Texas, as in most states, legal intoxication involved having a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) at or over the threshold established by law. Police officers can confirm the BAC of a driver by requesting a chemical breath test. In some cases, either their consent or a warrant, they may even draw blood to test for the presence of alcohol.
For most drivers, a BAC of 0.08% or higher will immediately lead to an arrest for a DWI. However, those driving a commercial vehicle could get arrested if their BAC is 0.04% or higher. Under Texas’s zero-tolerance law for minors, teenagers and 20-year-olds with any detectable amount of alcohol in their bodies also meet the criteria for legal intoxication.
What is impaired driving?
While chemical evidence of intoxication can make DWI charges easier to pursue, the state can bring charges against those whose BAC does not exceed the legal limit. All that is necessary is evidence of impairment at the wheel.
Dashboard, security or traffic camera footage could show erratic driving or other warning signs of impairment. Other drivers or the officer who conducts the arrest might go on the record regarding what they witnessed the driver doing at the wheel. Even those well below the legal limit for their BAC could face charges if there is evidence that the level of alcohol in their bloodstream impaired their driving.
Knowing the difference between legal intoxication and impairment can help you better respond to pending DWI charges.