DWI: Driving While Intoxicated. DUI: Driving Under the Influence. Two possibly similar Texas crimes, with two very different potential consequences. In many states besides Texas, any allegation of driving while under the influence of alcohol is considered DWI. In contrast, in those other states a DUI is charged when there is suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs. DWI for alcohol. DUI for drugs. Simple really.
Well, sometimes here in Texas we do things our own special way. In Texas the difference between a DWI charge and a DUI charge can hinge on two factors, the level of intoxication, and the age of the driver.
Let’s talk about DUI first. In Texas, if a driver under the age of 21 has any detectable amount of alcohol in their system – even if it is not impairing them behind the wheel – they can be charged with a DUI. The thinking is that in Texas, since it is illegal to consume alcohol under 21 anyway, the State can criminalize the conduct of younger drivers who drank any amount of alcohol.
A DUI in Texas is considered a Class C misdemeanor, which can result in a fine of up to $500.00, but cannot result in any jail time. A DUI will get your driver’s license suspended however, anywhere from 60 to 180 days depending on the amount of prior alcohol-related driving convictions you have on your record.
Now let’s look at a DWI. In Texas, a person is considered driving while intoxicated if they are operating a motor vehicle while either not having the normal use of their mental or physical faculties due to alcohol, drugs, dangerous drugs (i.e. prescription medications), or a combination of those substances, or by having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher. As we see here, neither the age of the driver, nor the type of substance consumed has any bearing on the charge. Alcohol, drugs, it doesn’t matter: if something makes you mentally or physically impaired, meaning “not normal”, and you drive, you risk a DWI charge.
While a DUI is merely a Class C misdemeanor which cannot result in jail time, a DWI is at least a Class B misdemeanor which carries a potential penalty of up to six months in jail or two years of probation and up to a $2000.00 fine. And that’s just for your first conviction. The second conviction is a more serious Class A misdemeanor while a third conviction is considered a felony with the possibility of prison time.
And don’t think that if you are under 21 you will only be charged with that lower DUI offense. If the police think that you are exhibiting signs of a true DWI, they are free to charge you with that higher offense.
As always, take care of yourself, be careful what you consume, and drive safe.