The Legal Alcohol Impairment Limit in Texas
What Can I Do if a Drunk Driver Injures Me?
Of all the hazards that one can face on Texas roadways, drunk drivers are among the most dangerous. In Texas, drunk driving caused a quarter of the state’s traffic-related fatalities in one year. If they do not lead to deaths, drunk drivers can cause serious injuries that leave victims with often permanent impairments.
Drunk drivers generally cause greater injuries than sober drivers who merely look away from the road too long and crash. Drunk drivers often fail to take any evasive maneuvers that a sober driver would, thus creating more impact. This begs the question—what level of impairment turns a driver into a drunk driver?
What Is the Legal Impairment Limit in Texas?
As a legal matter, blood alcohol content (BAC) determines whether a driver drove under the influence of alcohol. Like most states, Texas’s legal BAC limit for adults over the age of 21, excepting commercial drivers, is 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood. However, police can cite an individual for driving under the influence even if their BAC does not reach the state’s legal intoxication limit if they are nonetheless impaired enough that it affects their driving ability.
Federal law holds all commercial drivers, such as long-haul truck drivers, to a higher standard on BAC limits. Commercial drivers drive under the influence if their BAC is at 0.04 or more. Additionally, while authorities must have probable cause to stop a layperson for driving while impaired and require the driver to submit to a field sobriety test, police can pull commercial drivers over for random BAC tests even if their driving does not indicate impairment.
Minors also face stricter rules when it comes to impaired driving. While an individual under 21 may drink alcohol in Texas—as long as they are in the visible presence of a legal parent, guardian, or spouse who is at least 21—the state’s zero-tolerance laws for underage consumption call for the suspension of the underage person’s driver’s license if he or she operates a motor vehicle with any level of BAC.
How many drinks does it take to get to 0.08 BAC? An individual’s BAC varies based on weight, gender, how much the person had to eat before or while drinking, and how often they drink. But, for illustration, someone weighing 140 pounds would generally need to consume about four drinks within an hour to reach the legal impairment limit of 0.08.
Impairment Begins Long Before the 0.08 BAC
Alcohol consumption begins to impact the skills needed for safe driving long before an individual reaches the legal BAC level of 0.08. In fact, impairment starts with the first drink.
- At 0.02 BAC (approximately one drink in an hour before driving), an individual already experiences some loss of judgment, and their ability to track a moving target or to accomplish two tasks at the same time declines.
- At 0.05 BAC—still well below the legal limit—an individual experiences reduced coordination. They have difficulty steering, and a reduced ability to respond in emergency driving situations.
- At the legal limit of 0.08 BAC, an individual cannot concentrate and maintain a consistent speed, and experiences short-term memory loss, a reduced ability to process information such as signaling, and impaired perception.
- At 0.10 BAC, an individual experiences all of the deficits listed above and the inability to maintain lane position or to brake properly.
- At 0.15 BAC, an individual experiences a substantial loss of personal control and an inability to focus on driving safely or providing adequate decision-making or response times.
Why BAC Matters if a Drunk Driver Injured You
In the legal arena, the term “duty of care” refers to the actions that a reasonable person would take in a given set of circumstances. A driver owes a duty of care to operate his or her vehicle safely and legally. Given the deficits created by alcohol, even after only one drink, BAC matters because it helps establish liability if you wish to seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury through a drunk driving accident lawsuit. Moreover, Texas law considers a person impaired if alcohol has affected his or her driving in any way, whatever the BAC.
A drunk driving accident lawsuit seeks to show liability for the accident and the expenses and impacts of the injury.
Texas allows the recovery of damages (compensation) for expenses and impacts such as:
- Medical treatment, including emergency treatment, transport to the hospital, diagnostic testing, hospitalization, the services of a surgeon or physician, prescription medication, physical therapy and rehabilitation, and the provision of assistive devices such as prosthetics, crutches, or a wheelchair.
- Wage loss due to being too injured to return to work.
- Loss of future earning capacity, if your injuries result in permanent disabilities and you can no longer earn as high an income as before the accident.
- Property damages, such as the cost of repairing or replacing the vehicle you were driving when the accident occurred.
- Physical pain and suffering.
- Emotional distress.
- Loss of the enjoyment of life.
In a drunk driving lawsuit, you must prove liability. Lawyers prove liability by establishing:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care.
- The at-fault party breached the duty of care when they drove under the influence of alcohol.
- This breach in the duty of care caused the accident, which resulted in your injury and subsequent expenses and impacts.
Finding that someone had any level of BAC could establish that they breached their duty of care, and you may hold them liable for your resulting injuries. Higher BACs will strengthen your case, and may support a demand for punitive damages—damages beyond compensation for your expenses. Punitive damages punish the drunk driver and deter them and other drivers from drinking and driving.
A drunk driving accident lawyer can evaluate your case to determine which damages you should seek.