DWI penalties stiffen
By Robin Scott
While driving drunk is a crime that offends the senses, driving drunk with a child in the car brings on a greater sense of indignation to most people. The Legislators of Texas thought the same way, and have made changes in Texas law regarding driving while intoxicated with a child in the vehicle. Penalties for offenders have been stiffened and the change increases the penalties for drivers who are intoxicated with a child passenger from those who drive intoxicated without a child passenger. A child, according to this law, is anyone under the age of 15 years.
One new penalty requires an automatic driver’s license suspension for first time offenders. A person who has had their driver’s license suspended is forbidden from operating any motor vehicle during the suspension period, unless they obtain an occupational driver’s license for the purpose of going to and from work only. Repeat offenders now have an increased suspension period.
A second penalty raises the driver’s license reinstatement fee from $50 to $100. Other fees and fines that may be several hundred dollars continue in effect. A person convicted of the offense must pay court fines as well.
A third change in the penalties is that a minor who commits the offense may not circumvent the driver’s license suspension by turning 21 before their court date.
Offenses regarding alcohol and other controlled substances are defined in the Texas Penal Code. Texas Penal Code, Title 10, Offenses against public health, safety, and morals, Chapter 49, Intoxication and alcoholic beverage offenses, Section 49.04 states, “A person commits an offense if the person is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.” Section 49.045 states, “A person commits an offense if the person is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place and the vehicle being operated by the person is occupied by a passenger who is younger than 15 years of age.” A person committing the offense is charged with a state jail felony.
The Texas Penal Code also defines intoxication as “not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body or having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.” The determination of the alcohol in a person’s body is done either through a blood test or the use of a Breathalyzer, a device for estimating blood alcohol content (BAC).
The change in the laws regarding DWI was introduced in House Bill 2730, the Department of Public Safety’s Sunset Legislation. Many of the DPS-related bills in the 81st Legislative session were included in HB 2730. Most of the traffic and criminal laws became effective on September 1, 2009. Governor Rick Perry signed the Bill on June 19th.
The 225 page bill also included laws forbidding the use of cellular phones and electronic mobile devises within school zones.