Is it legal to drink and drive in Texas? Surprisingly, the Texas legal alcohol limit for driving says yes. While we don’t recommend it, so long as your blood alcohol level (BAC) is under .08%, Texans that are non-commercial drivers and over 21 can technically be on the road after drinking. That said, it’s not hard to reach .08%. And you don’t even have to drive to find trouble, as this man who paid $1,600 for an Uber ride home found out the hard way.

OK, but where does this magic .08% number come from? How can you estimate your own BAC? What affects your BAC? We have the answers to these questions about the legal alcohol limit and more.

What is the Texas legal alcohol limit for driving?

For Texans, some things are universal when it comes to drinking and driving. For example, the Implied Consent Law in Texas applies to all drivers. However, the Texas legal alcohol limit for driving depends on your situation and age.

If you are over 21, there are two legal alcohol limits for driving:

  • For ordinary, non-commercial drivers, the legal alcohol limit is .08
  • For commercial drivers holding a CDL, the legal alcohol limit for driving is only .04 — regardless of whether you’re driving your commercial or personal vehicle.
  • Should you get caught with a BAC of .15% or above, your punishment category (normally a Class B misdemeanor) can be bumped up to a Class A misdemeanor 

If you’re under 21, it’s a much different story. Read on so you can avoid the common pitfalls of the Texas legal alcohol driving limits.

The math & science behind the Texas legal alcohol limit

Myths and misconceptions are abound for the legal alcohol driving limits in Texas. From incorrect information about underage drinking rules to choosing between alcohol blood tests vs breathalyzers, confusion can come from anywhere.

One of the most common misconceptions starts with the .08 blood alcohol content figure because it doesn’t mean that your BAC limit is 8% or .08 mathematically. Instead if we were to mathematically compute it, the percentage actually means .0008. To arrive at these figures, your BAC is calculated by dividing the number of milliliters of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. So in layman’s terms, it doesn’t take much alcohol to get anyone drunk, by legal limits.

In fact, any blood alcohol level of 0.3% to 0.4% or greater is generally considered fatal. While .08% is fairly easy to reach, it’s impossible for you to survive or even reach a blood alcohol level of 8%. And if, by some miracle, you did… well, let’s just say that DWI probation or a DWI license suspension in Texas would then be the least of your worries. 

As you can see, there can be a huge difference between the perceived and actual Texas legal alcohol driving limits. A .08% BAC level is the point at which a driver is no longer driving responsibly and is likely to put their life and other people’s lives in danger by tailgating, driving off the road, making illegal turns, driving erratically or nodding off. 

Most people reach a .08% BAC level if they drink between 2 and 3 drinks per hour. At 2 drinks per hour, you’re most likely impaired; at 3 drinks per hour, you face a very high risk of being legally intoxicated. However, at 1 drink per hour, adults who weigh over 100 pounds can drink approximately 1 drink per hour and still drive.

Now, it’s worth noting that not all drinks are equal. “One drink” can mean a lot of things, but for the estimates above, one drink stands for 1.5 oz. of 80 proof liquor (40%), 12 oz. beer (4.5%) or 5 oz. wine (12%). In other words, one drink with two shots or 3 oz. of liquor in a cup would not be considered “one drink,” but two.

Now you know why questions like, “How much alcohol can you drink before you drive?” or, “How many beers is the legal limit in Texas?” are tricky to answer 

For more information, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has created charts that break down the approximate blood alcohol percentage in one hour for men and women.

Texas legal alcohol driving limits & commercial drivers

Earlier, you read the legal limit for commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders was only .04. If you or someone you know is a commercial driver with a CDL, please read this section carefully. The standards for commercial drivers are much more strict.

Commercial drivers have different standards because they drive different vehicles. Large vehicles such as 18-wheeler trucks and buses are complex for drivers, especially due to the potential danger to passengers or other drivers on the road when handled improperly.

In addition to the strict .04 Texas legal alcohol driving limit for CDL drivers, here are other things you need to know:

  • The .04 limit applies all the time. It doesn’t matter whether you are driving your commercial or company vehicle.
  • Officers must have probable cause for Texas field sobriety tests for non-commercial drivers. However, commercial drivers are bound by US Department of Transportation regulations that could subject commercial drivers to “random” BAC tests.
  • Fighting a DWI is high stakes for every citizen; however, a DWI threatens the means of living for commercial drivers. For example, an ALR hearing in Houston could almost be life and death for a commercial driver and their family.

Penalties for driving with a BAC over the legal alcohol limit in Texas

Getting convicted of DWI can have serious negative and legal repercussions. Yes, you will have to pay fines and spend time in jail (at least during the initial arrest). But you may also have your license suspended, and having DWI or DUI on your record can cause problems with issues with college enrollment, finding a job, acquiring certifications, purchasing a gun, and more. 

For more specifics regarding penalties for driving with a BAC over the legal alcohol limit in Texas, check out the following resources: 

Can you drink (and drive) under the age of 21 in Texas?

Texas has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. If you’re under 21, are asked to take a breath test and blow anything over 0 (zilch, nada), then you’re probably looking at getting a driver’s license suspension at the very least.

Some notes on the drinking age in Texas with a parent

Yes, you can drink under the age of 21 if you’re with a parent. You can even drink in a restaurant, so long as your parent purchases the alcoholic beverage and stays with you while you drink. But if you’re under 21 and your mom or dad lets you have a beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail, don’t even think about getting behind the wheel. 

Ways to avoid driving with a high BAC

As much as we like charts and data, several other factors such as weight, genetics, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, blood volume and muscle mass can all affect how your body is able to metabolize alcohol. There are also many medicines that don’t mix well with alcohol. The best way to avoid drunk driving (after not drinking) is to know your body, limit your alcohol intake and have a plan.

Make sure you do the following before you head out:

  • Designate a driver who will not drink (a DD)
  • Save a taxi number in your phone or download Uber or Lyft and add your credit card information beforehand, so you don’t have to do so after a few drinks
  • Charge your phone fully
  • Check your medication for potential side effects of drinking
  • Eat a substantial, well-balanced meal and consider eating snacks while drinking
  • Drink plenty of water before you go out and while drinking 
  • Know DWI laws, including the open container laws in Texas
  • Know what to expect from Texas Field Sobriety Tests, alcohol blood tests and breathalyzer tests

Know what to do if you get caught with a blood alcohol concentration over .08%

The penalties for breaking DWI laws and being over the Texas legal alcohol limit are steep. With an experienced DWI attorney in Houston, you have a much higher chance at avoiding the harshest sentences, receiving DWI probation over jail time and having a successful ALR hearing.   

If you’ve received a DWI charge and want the best DWI attorney in Houston at your side, call Thiessen Law Firm at 713-864-9000 or contact us online for your free consultation today. 

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Mark Thiessen

Mark Thiessen is an aggressive trial lawyer best known for his devotion to justice for his clients and high rank as a DWI Super Lawyer in Texas.