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The Consequences of Underage DUI in the State of Texas

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

What Happens if My Teen Gets a DUIA or DWI in Texas?

As the parent of a teen, you have a lot to think about.

When your teen turns 16 and starts driving, you have one more thing to add to the list – and this new item is not related to the costs associated with your new teen driver. It’s something bigger: drunk driving. Teens may get in a car with someone who’s been drinking, or they may make a bad decision, drink alcohol, and get behind the wheel themselves.

That’s a scary thought.

It’s scarier when you realize you haven’t had the DUI talk with your kid yet. That’s what this article is all about: having that DUI talk with your teenager. The talk where you make driving under the influence sound so ill-advised, so terrifying, and filled with so many negative consequences they won’t consider it even for a second.

To set the stage, we’ll share the latest national statistics on teen driving deaths and teen DUI.

Teen Automobile Accident/DUI Fatalities: 2019

  • Automobile accidents were the leading cause of death for teenagers (16-19) in the U.S.
  • 2,375 teens died in car crashes
    • 1848 of these teens were passengers
    • Mid-May through mid-July are the most dangerous months of the year for teen drivers
    • Saturday and Sunday are the most dangerous days in any given week for teen drivers
    • 9pm-midnight is the most dangerous time window for teen drivers
  • 24% of teen drivers involved in deadly automobile accidents had alcohol in their system
    • 82% of teen drivers with alcohol in their system that exceeded the legal limit
  • 17% of teens nationwide reported riding in the past month with a teen driver who had consumed alcohol
  • 5% of teen drivers self-report drinking and driving at least once in the past thirty days.
    • That’s over a million instances of teen DUI per month
  • 85% of teens who report drinking and driving also report binge drinking

As you can see, teen DUI is a big problem in the U.S. To put it bluntly, drunk driving kills – and teens are not immune. The ultimate consequence – death – should be a robust deterrent. However, if that’s not enough, we’ll summarize the laws on underage DUI in the State of Texas so both you and your teen know exactly what might happen if they do make the ill-advised decision to drink and drive.

Fair warning: the penalties for all underage drinking offenses in Texas are harsh. In the words of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Driver License Division:

“Texas has tough alcohol-related laws for minors.”

In Texas, a minor is a person under 21 years of age. A minor may not purchase, attempt to purchase, consume, or possess an alcoholic beverage. With regards to drinking and driving in Texas, the courts use the terms driving while intoxicated (DWI) and driving under the influence of alcohol (DUIA) rather than DUI.

And they’re not exaggerating about the tough laws: read on to learn more.

Underage DUI in the State of Texas: A Note to Parents

We’ll start this section with a warning to parents of teens in Texas. If you think providing alcohol to minors at a private party or in situations you deem appropriate makes you the cool parent, the State of Texas begs to differ.

Here are the penalties for non-driving alcohol-related offenses for adults that involve minors:

  • A person who furnishes or buys an alcoholic beverage for a minor can receive a fine of up to $2,000 and/or a jail sentence of up to 80 days.
  • A person who sells an alcoholic beverage to a minor can receive a fine of up to $4,000.00 and/or a jail sentence of up to one year

We digress from the main topic, but we want to include that to keep you informed, and remind you to seriously reconsider any thought of hosting a party for your teens where you provide alcohol. It’s a practice we firmly and categorically advise against. And in Texas, if you do it, you can go to jail.

Now let’s move on to the topic at hand: underage DUI laws in Texas.

The Texas Underage Zero Tolerance Policy

The first thing to understand about underage DUI laws in Texas is the phrases DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving while intoxicated) are not interchangeable, as they are in most states. In Texas, DUIA (diving under the influence of alcohol) applies to minors only. Here’s the law:

“It is illegal for a person under 21 to operate a motor vehicle or watercraft in a public place while having any detectable amount of alcohol in their system.”

In Texas, a police officer may stop any vehicle if they have reasonable suspicion or probable cause. If a police officer believes there may be any alcohol in the minor’s system, that minor may be:

  • Arrested
  • Handcuffed
  • Taken to a police department or county jail
    • Given the opportunity to take a breath test
  • Taken to a hospital or clinic for a blood test
  • The car can be impounded

If test results show the presence of any level of alcohol, the minor may be charged with DUIA. Here are the consequences for a conviction for DUIA:

First DUIA Offense

  • Class C misdemeanor
  • Fines up to $500.00
  • Mandatory attendance to an alcohol awareness class
  • 20-40 hours community service
  • License suspension of 60 days to two years
    • No eligibility for an occupational license (one that allows you to drive to work) for 30 days

Second DUIA Offense

  • Class C misdemeanor
  • Fines up to $500.00
  • Mandatory attendance to an alcohol awareness class
  • 40-60 hours community service
  • License suspension of 120 days to two years
    • No eligibility for an occupational license (one that allows you to drive to work) for 90 days

Third DUIA Offense

  • Delinquent conduct of minor 10-17 years of age
  • Fines up to $500.00
  • 40-60 hours community service
  • License suspension of 180 days to two years
    • No eligibility for an occupational license
  • For minors over 17:
    • Fines increase to $2,000
    • Jail time up to 180 days

That’s the Texas Zero Tolerance Law, fully explained. To reiterate, this law is triggered when a police officer arrests a minor under 21 under suspicion of DUI and a test confirms the presence of any amount of alcohol in their system. Refusal to submit to a blood or breathalyzer test results in a license suspension of 180 days for the first refusal and two years for a second or subsequent refusal.

Underage Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) in Texas: Minors Age17-21

In Texas, anyone caught and convicted for driving an automobile (or boat) with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of over 0.08% faces severe penalties. The penalties for minors 17-21 are the same as for adults over the age of 21. Circumstances that can increase the severity of the charge and increase penalties include:

  • BAC over 0.15%
  • Presence of minor other than the driver in the car
  • Injuring another person
  • Killing another person

Here are the penalties:

First DWI Offense

  • Class B misdemeanor
  • Fines up to $2,000
  • Jail sentence:
    • Minimum 72 hours
    • Maximum 180 days
  • License suspension:
    • Minimum of 90 days
    • Maximum one (1) year

Second DWI Offense

  • Class A misdemeanor
  • Fines up to $4,000
  • Jail sentence:
    • Minimum 30 days
    • Maximum one (1) year
  • License suspension:
    • Minimum of 180 days
    • Maximum two years

Third or Subsequent DWI Offense

  • Third-degree felony
  • Fines up to $10,000
  • Jail sentence:
    • Minimum two years
    • Maximum 10 years
  • License suspension:
    • Minimum of 180 days
    • Maximum two years

As we mentioned above, specific circumstances related to the DWI charge may increase the severity of the charges and the penalties. Here are the two additional charges related to DWI, and their associated penalties:

Intoxication Assault

This charge is triggered when a driver (minor 17-21 or adult) seriously injures someone while DWI. Penalties may include:

  • Third-degree felony
  • Fines up to $10,000
  • Prison (not jail):
    • Minimum two years
    • Maximum ten years
  • License suspension:
    • Minimum of 180 days
    • Maximum two years

Intoxication Manslaughter

This charge is triggered when a driver (minor 17-21 or adult) kills someone while DWI. Penalties may include:

  • Second-degree felony
  • Fines up to $10,000
  • Prison (not jail):
    • Minimum two years
    • Maximum 20 years
  • License suspension:
    • Minimum of 180 days
    • Maximum two years

Things to Consider About DUIA and DWI Laws in Texas

We’ll reiterate that there are two categories of charges for drinking and driving in Texas. First, there are DUIA charges for any amount of alcohol detected in system – we list all penalties above, including those for second and third offenses. Second, there are DWI charges for minors aged 17-21 with a BAC of 0.08% – 0.15%. Minors 17-21 receive the same charges and penalties as adults over age 21. That includes the charges and penalties for intoxication assault and intoxication manslaughter. Finally, Texas recently established these mandatory maximum amounts for DWI fines:

  • $3,000 for the first DWI
  • $4,500 for any subsequent DWI in 36 months
  • $6,000 for a BAC of .15% or higher.

In addition, it’s possible to be charged with DWI for driving under the influence of drugs, whether illicit or prescription. When an officer conducts a sobriety test and determines impairment, the presence of any illicit drug – e.g. marijuana, amphetamines, heroin, or others – in the system can trigger a DWI charge.

Prescription Drugs That Commonly Lead to DUIA/DWI Charges in Texas 

  • Xanax
  • Alprazolam
  • Soma
  • Vicodin
  • Ambien

Parents should also understand the truth of the quote we found on the page published by the Driver License Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety: Texas does indeed have tough alcohol-related laws for minors.

In comparison to the laws in Washington State, which you can read about in our article “The Consequences of Underage DUI in the State of Washington,” the penalties are severe. For instance, while the fines in both states are in the same ballpark, no DUI offenses for minors in Washington trigger a jail sentence of over 364 days. Whereas in Texas, a third DWI offense can result in 2-10 years of jail time.

That’s a serious, life-changing penalty, which we’re sure all parents and teens in Texas want to avoid at all costs.

That’s why parents need to be proactive about the subject of drinking and driving, and educate themselves and their teens about the potential consequences of underage DUIA and DWI in Texas.

How Parents Can Prevent Underage DUIA and DWI in Texas

To prevent your teen from driving under the influence or riding in a car with another teen under the influence, the first step is simple: talk to your teen about it. Tell them in no uncertain terms that DUI is no joke. We provided the latest information on Washington law. Now it’s your turn to get your facts together by visiting the following websites and reading their information:

  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) page on teen motor vehicle accidents here.
  • The CDC page on teen DUI here.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration page on DUI here.
  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism page on underage drinking here.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to have the drunk driving talk with your teenager. In case everything we share here isn’t enough, here’s what you need to say to your teenager about drinking and driving.

Ten Things to Tell Your Teen About Underage DUIA and DWI

  1. You shouldn’t be drinking in the first place.
  2. If you do drink, you definitely shouldn’t drive.
  3. You could hurt yourself.
  4. You could hurt someone else.
  5. You could end up on probation, doing community service, in real adult jail, or in juvenile detention.
  6. You can end up paying ridiculous amounts of money on court fees, fines, and lawyers.
  7. You can get your license suspended until you’re eighteen.
  8. You can hinder your chances at getting into your college or university of choice.
  9. You can reduce your chances of getting scholarship assistance from colleges or universities.
  10. You can reduce potential employment and career opportunities in the future.

That said, we recommend making your teen sign the CDC Parent-Teen Driving Agreement. Get it in writing before you hand over the keys. The conversation, the knowledge, and the written agreement may all seem heavy-handed, but that’s fine – do it anyway. Also, many teens rebel at boilerplate agreements. That’s fine, too – they can get over it. And if you’re lucky enough to have a teen who makes good decisions and would never in a million years consider driving drunk, don’t leave it to chance – do it anyway. The consequences of ignorance, in this case, far outweigh any possible argument for not presenting your teen with all the available facts, making sure they understand them, and making them agree to never, ever, ever risk driving drunk.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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