DWI Criminal Charges and Drunk Driving Lawsuits
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Drunk driving can result in criminal penalties as well as a civil lawsuit. Our lawyers handle personal injury cases—not criminal defense matters. We represent people who have been injured by drunk drivers and other negligent parties; not people who have been charged with drunk driving.
Criminal charges are brought by the state. Anyone caught driving drunk in Texas, or carrying an open alcohol container in their vehicle, can be arrested and prosecuted criminally, with varying penalties depending on the driver’s history.
Civil lawsuits, such as car accident lawsuits, are handled outside of the criminal justice system. In a civil law matter, there is no finding of guilt or innocence. Instead, a drunk driver can be ordered to pay monetary damages to the person (or persons) they injure in a drunk driving crash. This money is used to pay for things like hospital bills, lost wages, physical suffering, and mental anguish.
Texas Drunk Driving Facts and Statistics
Texans like to have a good time. Sometimes, those good times are accompanied by a drink or two—or three, or four, or five.
Overall, Texans consume less alcohol per capita (2.26 gallons per year) than the national average of 2.35 gallons of alcohol per year. But despite having a handful of dry counties, Texas ranks as one of the worst states for drunk driving.
- In 2021, nearly 90,000 Texas drivers were charged with DWI, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. That was up from 83,000 DWI charges in 2020.
- The Texas Department of Transportation reported more than 16,000 alcohol-related crashes in a recent year. Approximately 950 people died and 2,100 were seriously injured in these drunk driving crashes.
- About 1 out of 4 fatal Texas car crashes involves a drunk driver. Around 1 out of 7 serious car crash injuries in Texas involves a drunk driver.
- Dallas had 868 officially-reported drunk driving crashes in 2020. Houston had 2,355 and San Antonio had 1,484.
- Texas ranks as the fourth worst state for drunk driving in a recent study. Over the three-year study period, Texas recorded more than 5,000 alcohol-related driving deaths. That works out to 7.76 drunk driving deaths per 100,000 residents.
- Texas also has four cities ranked in the ten worst cities for drunk driving. The study lists Austin as the second worst city in the country for drunk driving, followed by El Paso at number 3, San Antonio at number 4, and Houston at number 5. The rankings are based on DWI arrests per capita. Per 100,000 residents, San Antonio saw 1,111 DWI arrests and Houston saw 787 arrests.
- Drunk driving crashes occur most often between the hours of 6:00 pm and 4 am. The most dangerous hours are between midnight and 3 am. The weekends see far more drunk driving crashes than weekdays.
The Dangers of Driving Drunk
Alcohol impairs thinking, reasoning, and muscle coordination—all of which are essential to safe motor vehicle operation.
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) measures the grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood. The legal BAC limit is set at .08 in Texas and every other state (except for Utah). At that concentration, crash risk increases exponentially, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Specific effects include:
- Balance, hearing, speech, vision, and reaction time become poorer
- Judgment is impaired
- Alertness is lowered
- Reduction of inhibition
- Worse coordination
- Slower reaction time
- Reduced ability to track moving objects
- Trouble steering
A BAC of .08 is the legal limit at which somebody is automatically arrested for DWI. However, that doesn’t mean a BAC lower than .08 is safe. NHTSA points out that even a small amount of alcohol can impact driving ability. For example, in 2019, 1,775 people were killed nationwide in alcohol-related crashes where the driver had a BAC below the legal limit (.01 to .07).
BAC is just one measure of a driver’s impairment level. A driver can still be charged with DWI if they’re under .08 BAC and fail a field sobriety test. And if that same driver is found to be impaired—either due to BAC .08 or higher, or because an officer finds they were noticeably impaired during a traffic stop—they can be held liable for a traffic accident.