How Texas’ tough DWI laws affect minors charged with drinking and driving
Texas has some of the strictest laws in the country when it comes to underage DWI/DUI.
A driving while intoxicated charge can have devastating consequences that follow an individual for the rest of his or her life. That’s especially true in cases of juvenile drinking and driving, because even if a record is expunged, the information can still be available to certain employers or insurance companies.
In addition, underage drinking and driving charges in Texas can include an additional count for being a minor in possession of alcohol. For these reasons, it’s important to have an underage DWI lawyer to represent you.
If your son or daughter was arrested in Houston for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it’s time to explore your legal options and take steps now to ensure that an underage DWI charge doesn’t follow your child for the rest of their life. Consult experienced attorney Matthew Sharp about the best defense strategy for you.
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Teen Drunk Driving Statistics
Despite Texas’ strict laws and penalties for underage DWI, drinking and driving continues to be a widespread problem among Texas teens and underage drivers.
- In 2013, 9.9 million people (3.8% of the population) reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs. This was highest among 18-25 year olds, where 10.6% reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs.
- An estimated 56% of young adult vehicular crashes in 2017 involved alcohol and 33% of DWI fatalities impacted individuals aged 21 and younger.
- More than a third of teens mistakenly believe they drive better under the influence of marijuana.
- Teen alcohol use kills 4,300 people each year – more than all illegal drugs combined.
- About a quarter of car crashes with teens involve an underage drinking driver. Ninety-five percent of the 14 million people who are alcohol dependent began drinking before the legal age of 21.
- Kids who start drinking young are 7 times more likely to be in an alcohol-related crash.
- About 1 in 7 teens binge drinks, yet only 1 in 100 parents believe his or her teen binge drinks.
- In 2017, a total of 660 DUI drivers died in crashes in Texas — 40 of these drivers were underage.
Texas Penalties for Underage Drunk Driving
In Texas, the legal limit for adults is a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08. But under the state’s strict zero tolerance policy, any trace of alcohol for drivers under the age of 21 can lead to charges of drunk driving. That means an underage driver can be arrested for DWI even if they’re not impaired or intoxicated — so long as their BAC level tests above 0.0%.
Juveniles in Texas who are convicted of underage drinking and driving face the same DWI penalties as adult drivers. As a Class C misdemeanor, some of the punishments that could be handed down for a first offense include:
- License suspension
- Community service
- Mandatory drug and alcohol counseling
- Mandatory alcohol awareness education
- Jail time
A minor who has his or her driver’s license suspended may be required to carry SR-22 insurance once the license has been fully reinstated. The requirement to do so can sometimes follow them into adulthood, thereby resulting in devastating financial consequences for years to come.
Punishments for a DWI increase with subsequent convictions. So, if a driver under the age of 21 already has a DWI charge on their record and faces a second DWI charge within 10 years, harsher penalties can be imposed such as fines up to $4,000, up to a year of jail time and license suspension.
Parental Rights & Responsibilities
A police officer doesn’t need permission from a parent or guardian to administer a blood or breath test to a minor due to Texas’ implied consent law. This law states that by allowing their child to receive a driver’s license, a parent has already given consent for testing should circumstances warrant.
As a parent, the best thing you can do is take preventative steps to teach your teen driver about the dangers of driving and the duties they must follow to be a safe driver. Let them know they can call you if they’re ever in an unsafe situation involving alcohol or if they need a ride home. Talk to them about never getting in a car if the driver has been drinking.
And most importantly, set a good example by not drinking and driving yourself.
Defenses Against Juvenile DWI Charges
Under Texas’ zero tolerance laws, officers only need to find a fraction of a percentage to bring a DWI charge against a minor. Even if an underage driver has no alcohol left in their body, an officer might still arrest them because their breath smells of alcohol. This leaves the possibility for testing errors, misreadings and misunderstandings.
In order for an officer to make an underage drinking and driving arrest, they should have probable cause to make a traffic stop or arrest. When defending a minor against these charges, a defense attorney will often look at whether or not the officer acted within the law when doing this. The accuracy of breathalyzer equipment can sometimes be called into question as well.
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Hiring an Experienced Underage DWI Attorney
We all make mistakes. Young drivers are particularly susceptible to peer pressure and sometimes make bad decisions. While it’s important to teach underage drivers about the consequences of their actions, it’s unreasonable that one poor choice made in youth should impact them for the rest of their lives — negatively affecting their ability to get a job or secure housing.
Houston defense attorney Matthew Sharp knows how a juvenile drinking and driving arrest can impact a person’s future. The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp will diligently pursue every avenue of defense available. For a free consultation concerning underage drunk driving charges, parents of the accused can call The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp and get the help they need.