Driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Texas does not only refer to driving after drinking alcohol. It also refers to the crime of drugged driving. Driving under the intoxicating influence of any drug – even prescription medications – is against the law in Texas. If you operate a motor vehicle after taking a prescription drug that interferes with your ability to safely drive in Texas, you could get a DWI and face substantial penalties. You could also cause a serious car accident and life-changing personal injuries. Be careful what you take before driving.
Texas’ DWI law is found in Texas Penal Code 49.04. This law defines intoxication as the loss of the normal use of physical or mental faculties from any substance, including alcohol, drugs, dangerous drugs or a combination of substances. Intoxication also refers to having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08% or higher. The loss of normal use of faculties could refer to significant changes, such as falling asleep behind the wheel, or smaller changes that still impact the ability to drive, such as impaired judgment and slowed reaction times.
Penal Code 49.10 goes on to say the defendant’s lawful use of a substance is not a defense to a DWI charge. It does not matter if a person is 21 and legally allowed to drink or if the driver had a prescription for the intoxicating drug. Driving under the influence of any substance that impacts a driver’s faculties meets the definition of the crime of DWI, regardless of whether the person lawfully consumed the substance. Having a legal right to consume a prescription medication does not give a patient the right to drive if the drug impairs his or her faculties.
According to Texas penal law, the crime of driving while intoxicated is a class B misdemeanor. The minimum jail term for a DWI is 72 hours. A DWI with an open container charge comes with a minimum confinement term of six days. DWI with a BAC of 0.15% or higher is a class A misdemeanor with a minimum confinement term of 30 days. Upon conviction of DWI, an individual will also need to pay $2,000 to $10,000 in fines depending on the level of the offense. Other punishments include community service and driver’s license suspension.
Avoiding a DWI charge is a good reason not to drive intoxicated, but your top priority should be safety. Driving under the influence of a prescription drug that impairs your ability to safely drive could put yourself and others at risk of serious injury. If you cause an accident while under the influence, you could face even more severe criminal charges, such as intoxication manslaughter. Even if you did not realize a prescription drug would intoxicate you, you could be civilly liable for the car accident, injuries and deaths you caused behind the wheel. Avoid taking potentially intoxicating prescription medications if you know you need to drive.
Ask your doctor how a prescription medication might impact your ability to drive. Read the possible side effects thoroughly. The first time you take a new drug, do not drive or operate heavy machinery. Find out how the drug affects you first. You may feel drowsy, disoriented, confused, anxious, stressed, dizzy, slow, nauseous or something else that could make it difficult to safely control your motor vehicle. Never combine alcohol with any prescription medication. When in doubt, stay home or arrange a safe ride to your destination rather than getting behind the wheel. You could prevent an accident and/or a DWI charge by not driving under the influence of a prescription drug.