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The differences between DWI and DUI in Texas

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GregCapersSherifft’s not my intent to lecture you on the dangers associated with drinking and driving, but I do want to share some information that you might find informative.

Operating a motorized vehicle or watercraft in an “impaired” manner could result in your death, the death of a family member, or loved one, as well as other innocent people.

There are laws in the state regarding this, but there are differences as to what is considered a DWI or a DUI.

Texas officially uses the term driving while intoxicated (DWI) instead of driving under the influence (DUI). Some people still use DWI and DUI interchangeably to refer to drunk or drugged driving.

A first-time offense DWI in Texas can land you a $2,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail among other serious consequences, and therefore, it’s important to understand the differences between these two charges so you know what to expect in terms of penalties and consequences.

•What is the legal drinking age in Texas?

Before diving into DWI versus DUI it’s important to know the legal drinking age is. The legal drinking age in Texas is 21, meaning you must be at least 21 years of age to purchase, possess, or consume alcohol.

People under 21 can still go out to restaurants and bars. However, they’re not allowed to drink any alcohol beverage, even if a parent or legal guardian agrees. Additionally, any individual providing alcohol to those under the legal age can face a fine and even a jail sentence.

What’s important to know is that consuming alcohol while operating a motor vehicle is illegal regardless of how old you are. Violating this law can land you in serious legal troubles.

•What is a DWI in Texas?

A DWI in Texas is a serious offense. Simply being under the influence of alcohol or prescribed drugs while publicly operating any kind of motorized vehicle, vessel, or even something as simple as a water ski can get you into legal troubles.

In Texas a DWI is a class B misdemeanor. A misdemeanor isn’t as severe as a felony charge. However, if you’re charged with a DWI and convicted you could receive up to 180 days in jail or pay a fine up to $2000.

If your body has a higher than .08 percent concentration of alcohol or any other drug, then you considered intoxicated under Texas DWI laws. Even if your blood alcohol level is less than .08 you might still receive a citation if your mental or physical facilities are impaired enough to affect your ability to drive.

DWI convictions carry both criminal penalties and administrative bills. While this might not seem like a big deal, it can greatly affect your job, family life, and financial situation. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of DWI laws and always make reasonable decisions when getting behind the wheel.

It’s worth noting in Texas a motorist can get a DWI even without actually driving. The statute defines DWI as operating a vehicle, while intoxicated or with a prohibited blood alcohol concentration, so while driving is sufficient for a conviction it isn’t required.

•What are the penalties for DWI?

For a first offense, the penalties are fines of up to $2,000, up to 180 days in jail and loss of driver’s license up to a year.

For a second offense, it’s fines of up to $4,000, one month to a year in jail and loss of driver’s license up to two years.

For a third offense, which becomes a felony, there is a $10,000 fine, prison terms from 2 to 10 years and loss of driver’s license up to two years.

These fines do not include a Texas state fine of $3,000, $4,000 or $6,000 that could be assessed upon sentencing.

If the event occurs with a child passenger under 15 years of age, you will be charged with child endangerment. Penalties include additional fines up to $10,000, jail for up to two years and loss of a driver’s license for another 180 days.

Driving with an open container in the vehicle, even if you’re not impaired, is illegal.

•What is DUI in Texas?

Driving under the influence is applied to anyone found with any amount of alcohol in their system while driving. Also, it’s illegal to operate a motor vehicle on a public road while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This means that a DUI in Texas is a charge that can potentially have serious long-term consequences.

What’s most important to know is that according to Texas law a DUI is classified as a class C misdemeanor.

•DUI penalties

DUI carries a lighter penalty with no jail time or criminal record. The maximum penalty for DUI in Texas is $500, probation, community service and alcohol awareness classes.

Keep in mind that this is just for the first offense. If you are caught and charged with a subsequent DUI, then you can receive jail time. Furthermore, the Texas Department of Public Safety often issues an automatic suspension of your driver’s license if you are a minor charged with DUI.

•What’s the difference?

Both definitions sound similar, however, they are somewhat similar, but not the same. DWI is a more serious offense with more serious penalties.

DWI involves operating a car with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher (.04 percent or higher for commercial drivers) and is classified as a class B misdemeanor and carries heavier penalties. On the other hand, DUI applies to any situation where the driver has consumed controlled substances that prohibit them from safely operating a vehicle.

These are a few of the guidelines associated with DWI and DUI in Texas intended only to provide you with a basic understanding of the law.

As always, I hope you find this information informative as well as helpful. Should you need additional information on the specifics of this subject, or any other subject please feel free to reach out to my office by calling my non-emergency number (936) 653-4367 and ask the operator for assistance.

Greg Capers is Sheriff of San Jacinto County.

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