Though arrests for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) are most common with people driving cars and trucks, you can get a DWI just as quickly on a motorcycle as you can in a vehicle with four wheels. In fact, a DWI is a DWI, whether you were driving a car
s, truck, commercial vehicle, golf cart, lawnmower, tractor, scooter, moped, go-kart, or a motorcycle. All of these are considered "motor vehicles" as far as Texas law is concerned.
The Type of Vehicle Doesn't Matter
Many people think that the type of vehicle they're driving at the time of their DWI arrest makes a difference, or should make a difference, in the charges they receive. It doesn't. Motorcyclists are subject to the exact same DWI law standards as motorists. Driving any vehicle while intoxicated can result in serious injuries or death, as well as property damage, and serious legal problems. Motorcycles can be great in many situations, but they are definitely at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping the rider safe in an accident. Add alcohol, and the danger increases exponentially.
Increased Risk of Death and Injury
Whether a biker has been drinking or not, DWI accidents involving a motorcycle are most likely to result in serious injury or death to the biker. A biker doesn't even have to be speeding or driving dangerously for an accident with a car or truck to seriously injure or kill the biker.
The lure of the motorcycle is understandable. Doug Murphy is a former motocross racer starting in his youth until his late 30's.
He now considers himself "semi-retired" from motocross racing, but still enjoys the thrill of riding a motorcycle fast. People love driving fast, on the open road, unconfined by the box of a car. Riding a motorcycle allows you to feel the road and the wind in ways you can't feel them in an enclosed vehicle. The thrill is undeniable, and the experience is unparalleled.
Even skilled, cautious, experienced bikers are at a greater risk of injury than car riders and drivers. The openness of a motorcycle leaves riders more vulnerable to anything that could happen. Good judgment is one of a motorcyclist's most vital protections against all that can happen. Unfortunately, judgment is often hampered by drinking.
After just a couple of drinks, a motorcycle rider's mental processes—like awareness, concentration, and judgment—
Drugs such as marijuana, as well as depressants and stimulants, can impair the rider's time/space perception, night vision, and braking and defensive riding abilities, as well as the perception of other vehicles.
Government studies claim that almost half of all riders killed in motorcycle accidents had been drinking. Nationwide, approximately 2,500 motorcyclists are killed, and 50,000 seriously injured in DWI accidents each year.
Texas Motorcycle DWI Laws
According to Texas state law, it is illegal to operate a car, truck, motorcycle, boat, or any other motor vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol or other drugs. In Texas, the current blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit is .08 percent, unless you hold a commercial driver's license (CDL). The limit for CDL holders is .04 percent.
If you are arrested for a first DWI offense in Texas, it will be considered a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a maximum 180-day jail sentence, fines worth no more than $2,000, and driver's license suspension for up to 365 days. However, if your BAC is .15 percent or higher —which is nearly double the legal limit—your first DWI charge can be considered a Class A misdemeanor, which can result in a jail term of up to one year and a maximum $4,000 in fines.
How Texas Law Enforcement Officers Spot Intoxicated Motorcyclists
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established standards for law enforcement officers to use in detecting motorcyclists who are intoxicated. These standards are behaviors that distinguish between impaired and normal operation of motorcycles, and officers are trained to look for these signs.
Not being able to negotiate curves is one of the main signs that a motorcyclist may be intoxicated. An impaired motorcyclist might drift to the outside of their lane or drift into another lane while going around a curve or turning a corner. This type of behavior is caused by alcohol-impaired balance and coordination.
Likewise, if a rider attempts to maintain balance at slow speeds while turning but there is an unsteadiness or "wobble" in the front handlebars or the front wheel of the bike, the driver may be intoxicated. Also, weaving is one of the most reliable signs that a rider is intoxicated.
Officers also watch to see if a motorcyclist has trouble parking and dismounting their bike. Officers look to see if a motorcyclist first turns off their engine and then uses the kickstand to park the motorcycle. The motorcyclist then should balance their weight on one foot while swinging the other foot over the seat to dismount.
Another sign of intoxication is if a motorcyclist has trouble balancing their bike when they are stopped at a traffic sign or signal. An unimpaired motorcyclist will usually place one foot on the ground to keep the bike upright while leaving the other foot on the peg nearest the gear shift lever. An intoxicated rider, however, may shift their weight from foot to foot to try to maintain balance.
The NHTSA has developed the following list of cues for detecting when a motorcyclist may be impaired:
(There is a 50% or greater chance that the motorcyclist is impaired.)
Drifting during turn or curve
Trouble with dismount
Trouble with balance at a stop
Turning problems (e.g., unsteady, sudden corrections, late braking, improper lean angle)
Inattentive to surroundings
Inappropriate or unusual behavior (e.g., carrying or dropping an object, urinating at the roadside, disorderly conduct, etc.)
(There is a 30% to 50% chance that the motorcyclist is impaired.)
Erratic movements while going straight
Operating without lights at night
Following too closely
Running stop light or sign
Driving the wrong way
The NHTSA developed this list of cues by interviewing experienced officers from around the country and by analyzing more than 1,000 motorcycle DWI arrest reports. According to the NHTSA, the excellent cues predict which motorcycle riders are impaired at least 50% of the time, and the good cues predict which riders are impaired 30 to 49% of the time.
Unfortunately, law enforcement officers in Texas can be quite biased against motorcyclists and unfairly scrutinize riders. The penalties for DWI in Texas are harsh—it's essential that motorcyclists hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer and try to avoid serious criminal charges. Attorney Doug Murphy is experienced in handling motorcycle DWIs and can help you through this stressful, challenging time by advising you on your best defense strategy and advocating for you.
Motorcycles and Driving While Intoxicated
Though motorcycles make up only three percent of all registered vehicles in the United States, motorcyclists are at much greater risk for injury and death when they are involved in an accident. Also, motorcyclists are more likely than car drivers to drive while impaired.
According to 2016 data from the NHTSA:
Motorcyclist fatalities occurred nearly 29 times more than fatalities among car occupants, and motorcyclists were almost five times more likely than car occupants to be injured.
- Forty-two percent of motorcycle riders who died in single-vehicle crashes were driving while intoxicated.
- Motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were found to have the highest percentage of alcohol-impaired drivers than any other vehicle types — 27 percent for motorcycles. Much higher compared to 21 percent for passenger cars, twenty percent for light trucks, and 2 percent for large trucks.
- Motorcycle riders killed in traffic crashes at night were three times more likely to be alcohol-impaired than motorcycle riders killed during the day.
If a law enforcement officer believes you are intoxicated while riding a motorcycle, you will face the same process and penalties as someone who is arrested for DWI while driving a four-wheeled vehicle.
The officer who pulls you over will ask you a series of questions to ascertain if you look and sound intoxicated. The officer may then ask you to perform a field sobriety test, submit to a breathalyzer, or both. If you refuse, the officer may arrest and attempt to get a warrant to compel you to submit to a blood test.
Regaining Your License After a DWI
If you are convicted of DWI, your driver's license can be suspended or revoked, and there may be requirements you have to fulfill to get your license back, including the installation of a vehicle ignition interlock device. These devices work by forcing the driver or motorcycle rider to blow into the device before the vehicle will start. If the vehicle operator has been drinking, the vehicle will not start.
Many people mistakenly believe that they will only be required to install the interlock device in the vehicle they were driving at the time of their arrest. Instead, they will likely be required to install an interlock device in every vehicle they may operate, including a motorcycle.
If you received a DWI while riding a motorcycle, you will face the same criminal justice system and process as someone who received a DWI while driving a four-wheeled vehicle. The law and the punishments will be the same, even if you were injured in a serious accident. The law will not cut you any breaks, and Texas prosecutors will likely work to make sure you receive the harshest punishments allowed.
It's vital that you have experienced legal representation. You need a lawyer who knows motorcycles, understands what the freedom to ride means to motorcyclists, and who know how to handle a motorcycle DWI and who knows how to fight for you. You need a lawyer who can explain your rights and what will happen next.
Board Certified DWI Specialist Attorney and award winning lawyer Doug Murphy will review your case, collect evidence, and determine if the arresting officer violated your rights or what the weaknesses may be in the prosecutor's case. We will work diligently to either get your case dismissed or to have your charges reduced so that you avoid spending time in jail. Contact us today and let us fight for you.