DWI Terms & Definitions

Absorption Rate

The rate at which consumed alcohol finds its way into the blood stream. Alcohol sitting in the stomach has delayed absorption. Absorption rate will be affected by many factors including how much food was eaten, the type of food, individual biologic differences, and what type of alcohol was consumed. When drinking continues over a course of hours, both absorption and “burnoff” (metabolizing of alcohol) will be happening simultaneously.

Administrative License Suspension

Under Texas law, police and other law enforcement officers have the right to confiscate your license in several different situations, including:

  • If you are an adult who is driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher
  • If you are an adult who refuses to submit to a blood test or breath test to determine your BAC
  • If you are a minor who drives a motor vehicle with any detectable alcohol in your blood
  • If you are a minor who refuses to participate in a BAC test

For both minors and adults, this can apply whether you are driving a car or a boat. Texas law then allows a prompt suspension of the license prior to any conviction for DWI.


Short for “blood alcohol concentration”. BAC refers to the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream and is measured in percentages. BAC can be measured either by breath or blood and is used by law enforcement to determine whether or not a driver is legally intoxicated.

Blood Test

A test that directly measures the percentage of alcohol content of the blood drawn from a DWI suspect.

Breath Test

A test of blood alcohol level that is derived from measuring the alcohol level of the suspect’s breath. It depends for its accuracy on the machine’s receiving air from deep in the lungs, and a mathematical formula is used to extrapolate the blood alcohol level from the lung-air alcohol level.


A machine that measures a driver’s blood alcohol content by determining the amount of alcohol in his lungs. Drivers blow into this machine, are usually given two back-to-back breath tests, and the scores are averaged (see Intoxilyzer).

Burnoff Rate

The rate at which alcohol in the body is metabolized. During burnoff, the blood alcohol level drops, giving rise to the “falling curve” term to describe the graph of the decrease in BAC.

Commercial Vehicle

A vehicle driven for business purposes. There are severe consequences for driving a commercial vehicle while intoxicated or drunk.

Community Service

An unpaid service for the benefit of the public that is performed by lawbreakers as part (or all) of their sentence. Community service may also be a mandatory part of your sentencing.

DUI – Minor

Driving While Under the Influence. Many States have DUI laws when referring to “Drunk Driving”. In Texas we refer to the crime as DWI. However, in Texas, it is illegal for minors to drive a vehicle with any detectible amount of alcohol in their system. This means that a minor can be below the legal limit for an adult but still be arrested and charged with DUI. This means there is ZERO tolerance with alcohol and minors when they are driving a vehicle. This offense is a Class “C” misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500.00, alcohol awareness classes, 20-40 hours of community service, and a suspension of their driver’s license.


Driving While Intoxicated is the loss of normal use of mental or physical faculties or the BAC of .08 or more.


A serious crime, such as murder, burglary, or even a third DWI for which there is a stricter sentence given than for a misdemeanor. Felonies are usually categorized by degrees. 1st degree felonies are the most serious class (with the highest fines and penalties), 2nd degree felonies are less serious, and so on. Many states treat DWIs that cause serious bodily injury as a 3rd degree felony. If there has been a death as a result of the DWI, it may be classified as a 1st or 2nd degree felony, depending upon the situation and facts. A felony can result in a sentence to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice instead of county jail.

Ignition Interlock Device

An ignition interlock device is an in-car alcohol breath screening device that prevents a vehicle from starting if it detects a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over a pre-set limit of .02 (i.e., 20 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood). The device is located inside the vehicle, near the driver’s seat, and is connected to the engine’s ignition system.

Implied Consent Laws

Texas has the law of implied consent. If you have a driver’s license, you have, by implication, consented to have your blood alcohol concentration measured. In Texas, you may refuse to take the test, but fines and license suspensions may be the result. An officer in Texas cannot pull a driver over to test for BAC, but must have “probable cause” to believe the driver is DWI before pulling them over (such as observing a traffic violation).


A trademark name used for a device that detects and measures alcohol in expired air so as to determine the concentration of alcohol in a person’s blood.

License Revocation

A license revocation means your driving privileges have been cancelled. You will likely need to reapply for a driver’s license after a designated length of time.

License Suspension

A license suspension means you may not drive for the period of your suspension. Driving privileges are administered by the Department of Public Safety and not the court system. Your license can be suspended for an arrest of DWI even if there is never a conviction.


Consumption of Alcohol by a Minor. A minor commits this offense if he/she consumes an alcoholic beverage. It is an affirmative defense if the minor is in the visible presence of his adult parent, guardian, or spouse, or other adult to whom the minor has been committed by a court. This offense is a Class “C” misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500.00.


Minor in Possession of Alcohol is defined under the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code (TABC) and it states that a minor commits an offense if they possess an alcoholic beverage. This offense is a Class “C” misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500.00. If the minor has two prior convictions, then the punishment is a fine between $250.00 and $2,000.00 and/or confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 180 days. It is an affirmative defense if the minor is in the visible presence of his adult parent, guardian, or spouse, or other adult to whom the minor has been committed by a court.

Miranda Rights

The formal advisement that you have the right to remain silent and to have a lawyer present before answering questions, which police must recite prior to questioning someone who is in custody. Seldom relevant to DWI cases, because the police never arrest anyone until after questioning (Have you been drinking?), after the FSTs, and maybe even after the Blood Alcohol Testing. Of course, one does have the right not to answer questions like that one, or “How much have you had to drink? When?”, but no officer will advise you of that.


A crime less serious than a felony. Misdemeanors are categorized by letters in the State of Texas. Class A misdemeanors are the most serious (with the highest fines and penalties), Class B misdemeanors are less serious, and Class C misdemeanors are those not punishable by county jail time but fine only.

Occupational License

A petition to the court for an occupational license, commonly known as a restricted driver’s license, upon suspension of your driver’s license. An occupational license allows you to drive legally for the purpose of work, school, or household duties, and it remains valid until the end of your driver’s license suspension. If granted an occupational license, the court specifies the hours you can drive, the reasons you can drive and where you may drive.

Open Container Laws

In some states, it is illegal to have an open container of alcohol in your vehicle. Many states have laws that make it illegal for drivers and passengers to have open containers in the vehicle.

Pre-Trial Diversion

A program that can suspend the prosecution of a criminal DWI charge in exchange for performing certain tasks, such as completing classes, performing community service and attending AA. At the end of the period of successful diversion the charges are dismissed by the District Attorney’s office. This is very rare.


When all or part of the required jail time is suspended in exchange for good behavior, as determined by checking in with a probation officer. Jail time may be reinstated if it is found the terms of probation are being violated.


Ejecting some stomach contents up into the throat or mouth. With alcohol in the stomach, this can fool a Breathalyzer into thinking that the blood alcohol level is much higher than it is. Operators administering a breath test are supposed to watch the suspect to see he does not burp or regurgitate prior to the test. A cloud of alcohol burped up into the mouth will invalidate the breath test results.

Rising Curve Defense

A defense to DWI based upon the claim that the driver was not under the influence and did not have .08% blood alcohol when he or she was driving, but that it rose to that level after arrest due to the fact that alcohol was still being absorbed. Consequently, a long delay between being pulled over and having a BA test helps the suspect in many cases.

Sobriety Checkpoints

A system where law enforcement agencies select a particular location for a particular time period and systematically stop vehicles (for example, every third car) to investigate drivers for possible DWI. If any evidence of intoxication is noted, a detailed investigation ensues.


Short for “Standardized Field Sobriety Tasks”, SFST’s are loosely defined as a battery of tests used by police to determine if a driver is impaired. The tests assess balance, coordination and the ability of the driver to divide his attention to more than one task. These “tests” are known as the HGN, walk and turn and one leg stand.

SR22 Insurance

SR22 is a specific type of insurance certificate required in most states to be provided from an insurance carrier to the Department of Public Safety in order to prove financial responsibility. An SR22 insurance certificate is different than standard proof of insurance you are required to carry in your vehicle.

Urine Test

A laboratory chemical test of the suspect’s urine to determine the suspect’s blood alcohol level. Urine Testing is a very inaccurate form of testing.