Getting behind the wheel after a drink or two may not seem like a big deal. But in fact, even small amounts of alcohol can impair a person’s ability to drive. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that in 2019, 1,775 people lost their lives in accidents where a driver had below the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) in their system.
We take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions regarding driving while intoxicated (DWI) and the potential consequences of this charge.
What is the Legal BAC Limit to Drink and Drive?
The nationwide legal limit of a driver’s BAC is .08 or lower. However, law enforcement can still charge someone with a DWI if their BAC is lower than .08.
How Can Law Enforcement Determine If I’ve Been Drinking?
One of the first questions after requesting your license and vehicle registration will most likely be the officer asking where you were traveling to and if you were drinking prior to getting into the vehicle. Some drivers may admit to this or law enforcement may see evidence of alcoholic beverages in the vehicle which would make it difficult to deny drinking and driving.
Most drivers, however, will say, “No.” It is then up to law enforcement to conduct tests to prove a driver is intoxicated. Those tests include a field sobriety test and checking a driver’s BAC.
What are Field Sobriety Tests?
Field sobriety tests consist of three evaluations. If a driver fails any of these tests then they could be charged with a DWI.
Standard field sobriety tests include:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus — often referred to as an eye test, this is when law enforcement looks for a driver’s eyes to jerk or move involuntarily. If someone has been drinking, their eyes can twitch due to the alcohol stimulation. During an eye test, law enforcement will usually ask a driver to follow an object (such as a pen) from side to side. If the driver’s eyes don’t follow the object or twitch, then the driver could be suspected of a DWI.
- Walk and Turn — if a driver passes the eye test but law enforcement believes the driver may be intoxicated, then the driver could be asked to complete a walk and turn test. Just like it sounds, this is when a driver is asked to take a few steps walking heel-to-toe and in a straight line. Then, the driver is to turn around and walk back to their original starting point. In this test, law enforcement looks for signs of impairment which can include not following directions, losing balance, and having to stop to regain balance.
- Standing on One Leg — again, just as it sounds, this test entails a driver to stay balanced for a few seconds on one leg while their other foot is about six inches off the ground. During this test, law enforcement looks to see if the driver sways, has to use their arms for balance, or puts their foot down.
Just because a driver may fail one, two, or all three of these tests does not give law enforcement indisputable evidence that a driver is intoxicated. That’s why most officers will start with one of these tests and then obtain the driver’s BAC (or skip the field sobriety tests entirely and only ask for the driver’s BAC).
How is BAC Determined?
There are three common methods to determine someone’s BAC.
- Breath: this is the first method many think about when it comes to gauging a driver’s BAC. A driver will blow into a device, called a breathalyzer, and the reading will show the driver’s BAC.
- Urine: is a driver is unwilling to take a breath test, law enforcement will request a urine test.
- Blood: if a driver is incapacitated or refuses to consent to the other methods listed above, then law enforcement could enforce a blood draw to determine a driver’s BAC.
While blood and urine tests are rarely inaccurate, sometimes results from a breathalyzer can be challenged. However, it is difficult to prove that there was an error (either by the machine or law enforcement) when obtaining a driver’s BAC through a breathalyzer.
What are the Consequences of a DWI?
Depending on the severity of a driver’s actions will determine the consequences they could face. A DWI charge can range from a Class B or A misdemeanor to a felony. With any of these charges, drivers should expect to pay hefty fines, potential jail time, and driving privileges potentially taken away. The type of charge, and if it is a first, second, or more offense, will determine the seriousness of the punishment.
Can I Get Out of a DWI?
In Texas, a DWI can be reduced to a lesser offense. This is not something that can be easily done on a driver’s own, though.
If you or a loved one was charged with a DWI, don’t try to fight charges without an experienced team supporting you. At The Law Offices of Jed Silverman, we’ve helped hundreds of drivers charged with DWI and worked to get them the best outcome possible. Our experienced DWI-fighting lawyers will review your case during a free consultation.