Every day, 28 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes involving an alcohol impaired driver, which accounts for just over 10,000 deaths every single year, or one-third of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.
While the problem of drunk driving has diminished in the past few decades, there is still a staggering amount of damage caused by drunk driving, with an annual cost estimated to be more than $44 billion, according to the CDC.
While the number of lives lost is both staggering and tragic, it only accounts for a small portion of all the drunk driving incidents across the country. In 2015, there were nearly 1.1 million drivers arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which accounts for nearly 1 in 10 out of every arrest in the United States.
Drunk Driving in Texas
In the great state of Texas, there are serious problems with drunk driving due to the population and sheer size of the state. While other states may lead the statistics in terms of drunk driving deaths per capita, Texas often sees more deaths than any other individual state. In 2016, nearly 1,000 people were killed in drunk driving accidents in Texas, including 56 pedestrians or cyclists, 143 passengers in the vehicle of drunk drivers, 149 drivers of other vehicles hit by a drunk driver, and 638 drunk drivers themselves.
Overall, law enforcement throughout Texas also arrested more than 85,000 people for drunk driving, which is more than any other state except for California. The cities with the highest number of drunk driving crashes are, 1) San Antonio; 2) Houston; 3) Austin; 4) Dallas; and 5) El Paso, with the majority of crashes occurring between 6 p.m. and 4 a.m., with the most common days being Saturday or Sunday, as you might expect.
DWI Investigation and Arrest
There are a number of situations where an officer may come into contact with a potentially drunk driver, including when a patrol officer observes erratic driving behavior, when an officer stops a vehicle for a minor traffic offense, such as failing to use turn signals and then notices the signs of intoxication, when a driver has been involved in a fender bender or larger accident, or while acting on a tip from a private citizen.
Some of the telltale signs of a drunk or impaired driver include taking wide turns, straddling the center line, almost striking an object or another vehicle, weaving or swerving, excessive speed, or slow speed, and more.
If an officer observes such behavior they may have “reasonable suspicion” to legally justify stopping the vehicle for further investigation. An officer will make initial contact with the driver to ask questions and observe for further sign of intoxication such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, fumbling with paperwork or their wallet, the smell of alcohol, among others.
An officer may now ask a suspect to step out of the vehicle for a field sobriety test. Increasingly, many officers will ask suspects to breath into a portable breathalyzer which will provide the blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If you refuse such a test, you can face additional penalties in Texas, which are unrelated and are in addition to any other criminal penalties, since all drivers in Texas are subject to what is called implied consent, meaning you’ve implied your consent to a test if a law enforcement officer suspects you of drunk driving.
Drinking and Driving Legal Limits
In Texas, an adult of legal drinking age (21 and older) is considered impaired with a BAC of 0.08 and subject to arrest for driving while impaired (DWI). If the suspect is under the age of 21, Texas has a zero-tolerance policy and any detectable amount of alcohol is subject to arrest for driving under the influence (DUI). The age of the driver is the primary difference between a DWI and DUI charge in the state of Texas, but this differs in every state.
Some studies have found that a BAC of .01 to .04 may slightly decrease the risks of an accident compared to drivers with 0.0, likely due to drivers being extra cautious. But that all extra accidents caused by alcohol were due to at least a .06 BAC, with 96% of them caused by a BAC higher than .08. It is estimated that a BAC of .15 greatly increased the risk of accident.
Consequences for Drunk Driving
The consequences for drunk driving differ in each state, but they are often severe and with long-lasting implications for the driver involved. In the state of Texas, a first time offender may be looking at the following immediate consequences:
- A fine of up to $2,000, which doesn’t include other court costs or lawyer fees
- Suspended license for up to two years
- Mandatory community service
- Alcohol education and prevention programs
- Jail time between 3 to 180 days
- An additional charge of $2,000 per year for 3 years in order to retain a license
- A dramatic rise in car insurance payments
- The possible installation of an ignition interlock device, which is required for repeat offenders or first time offenders with a BAC over .15.
If you are a repeat drunk driving offender, you can expect much harsher sentences. For example, a second drunk driving offense may result in a fine up to $4,000, and jail time between one month and one year. A third time offender may see a fine of up to $10,000 and state prison time between two years and ten years, in addition to the aforementioned consequences for first time offenders.
If you are driving while intoxicated with a child in the vehicle, you can expect harsher sentences, even for first time offenders, with fines up to $10,000, and up to two years of jail time.
The consequences of drunk driving depend on the specifics of each drunk driving case and can depend on the age of the offender, the type of driver’s license they have, as well as the specific circumstances of their arrest depending on variables like the BAC, if there were passengers in the vehicle, and whether someone was seriously hurt or killed as a result of the drunk driver’s actions.
Additional Consequences of Drunk Driving
The fact of the matter, however, is that the above legal ramifications from a drunk driving arrest are only the short term consequences. Many people who have been charged with drunk driving face even more challenging obstacles ahead with respect to their personal and professional lives, which often resonate for years following a drunk driving arrest.
For example, if you are employed in a job that requires driving, whether that is as a commercial trucker, taxi cab driver, or as a pizza delivery person, you may find that your job is in immediate jeopardy when you are no longer able to drive due to a suspended license.
If you are seeking out another job after serving jail time or at any point in the future, you may find that it becomes much more difficult when a potential employer performs a background check and considers your application versus another with a clean criminal record.
Background checks are not only used by potential employers, but are often also used by landlords considering new tenants in their rental property or apartment, and are a requirement in order to apply for financial aid for college.
These societal consequences aren’t limited to formal job or living situations, but also can impact the personal lives of those convicted of drunk driving as they face fallout with their family for the undue financial burden or social stigma associated with drunk driving.
Drinking and driving are never a good mix, and the arrest is only the first step in a long and difficult process. But it is important to realize that if you or a loved one has been charged with a DUI or DWI, the outcome is not written in stone.
In order to receive the best possible outcome for your DWI or DUI case, it is crucial that you have an experienced drunk driving attorney on your side, who will fight to ensure that your rights are protected and will help you navigate the complicated legal process.
If you’ve been charged with drunk driving in the state of Texas, you need the services of Fears Nachawati to fight on your behalf. There are offices located throughout the state of Texas, including in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin. In order to schedule your free, no-obligation legal consultation please call (866) 705-7584.