Totaled Vehicle and DWI Charge

DWI charges often arise when an officer observes erratic driving or moving violations and pulls the vehicle driver over to the curb for sobriety testing. Officers having reasonable suspicion of intoxicated driving may make a traffic stop. Yet many more DWI charges arise because of vehicle accidents, especially when the accident totals vehicles and injures occupants.

Accident Response and Investigation

Officers respond promptly to accident scenes. They do so for several reasons, first for emergency-medical purposes, then to address traffic safety and congestion, but also to investigate and cite traffic-safety and vehicle-code infractions. They may issue tickets for things like speeding, failing to yield, or ignoring stop signs and stop lights, and for vehicle lights out, no registration, or no insurance.

Yet police investigation at an accident scene doesn't stop with accident particulars. Police officers responding to accident scenes with some regularity observe other law violations. Vehicle occupants may have outstanding arrest warrants. Police may observe drugs, guns, or other contraband in the vehicles. A vehicle may itself have been stolen, or one of its occupants may complain to police of kidnap, abuse, or other crime or violence. Accident scenes draw police into close contact with people who may have any number of legal issues that the accident suddenly reveals.

Given the substantial role that alcohol and drug use play in causing motor-vehicle accidents, police are especially on the lookout for signs of driver intoxication, when an accident totals a vehicle. Responding officers observe and interview vehicle drivers closely, not just to learn how the accident happened but also for behaviors that may evidence intoxication. Notwithstanding Texas's implied-consent law, police generally need articulable suspicion or exigent circumstances to demand a DWI blood test. They will look closely for those observations in any accident that totals a vehicle.

Impounding a Totaled Vehicle

When police have probable cause for a DWI charge, not to mention other law violations, then Texas law permits police to impound the vehicle. Impoundment means towing it to a secure yard for storage. If the vehicle is driveable, then the police may have other options such as permitting a sober passenger to drive the vehicle away or letting a family member or friend come to get the vehicle. But when the accident totaled the vehicle, their only option is to tow for impoundment, removing the vehicle from the highway as a safety hazard. Police must also impound the vehicle if the accident injured or killed another person, police charge other felonies, or driving the vehicle is unsafe. Read more about DWI vehicle impoundments here.

Impoundment, though in part a safety concern, also preserves the vehicle as evidence supporting the DWI charge and any related charges. Impoundment also authorizes police to inspect the vehicle, during the course of which they may discover other evidence of crime. Only if the vehicle is not evidence is the owner able to recover the vehicle from the impoundment yard.

You'll want to recover your vehicle promptly on its release to stop what can prove to be substantial storage charges up to $20 per day. Police may tell you where they have impounded the vehicle, or they may not. If the accident was in the Houston area, then to find your vehicle, you may use FindMyTowedCar.com or call the tow line at 713-308-8580. You must also pay the towing charge, typically between $250 to $500.

Insurance for a Totaled Vehicle

What, though, do you do if the accident totaled your vehicle? You should still recover it from impoundment as soon as possible to stop the accumulating storage charge.

Recovering a totaled vehicle from impoundment may mean another tow. Unless you want the totaled vehicle at your own location, for parts or other purposes, you would arrange for a tow to a junkyard or similar recovery facility. The impoundment facility may well also serve as a junkyard or similar recovery facility, so that instead of another tow, you would arrange to sell or otherwise transfer the vehicle and its title to the facility. Again, don't delay.

A key first step, though, before disposing of your totaled vehicle, is to confirm your vehicle's insurance coverage and contact the insurer, which you should have done promptly on the day of the accident. Texas law requires owners of vehicles operated on the public highway to insure their vehicles related to liability, what insurers call PLPD for personal liability and property damage. You don't have to insure the vehicle's repair or replacement, although many owners do, buying what insurers call collision coverage or comprehensive coverage. Indeed, vehicle owners who have financed the vehicle's purchase will generally find that the finance company requires replacement insurance.

If you have collision coverage for the vehicle's repair or replacement, then the insurer may guide you in the vehicle's recovery from impoundment. The insurer should tell you when and where they will inspect the vehicle to confirm its totaled condition, and may recommend where and when, and even how, to move it. To total the vehicle means that the insurer has determined that its junk value exceeds its repair value. In effect, and depending on your specific insurance coverage, the insurer will generally pay you the vehicle's depreciated value just before the accident.

You need not necessarily accept the insurer's totaled value. Insurers generally recognize the vehicle owner's interest in negotiating a fair value. Do your own research on your vehicle's depreciated value, or get the help of a qualified friend or professional such as a vehicle salesperson or mechanic. As with many things in life, you must act thoughtfully, promptly, and responsibly, even as to a totaled vehicle, if you are to avoid additional losses while recovering what you deserve.

Retain Expert Representation

If you face a DWI charge in which you totaled your vehicle, then you need expert legal counsel to defend the charge and may need additional help to navigate the above impoundment and insurance issues. 2021 Houston DWI Lawyer of the Year Doug Murphy helps clients successfully defend DWI charges, recover their vehicles, and get the insurance recovery for which their premiums paid. Read more here about how effective defense counsel can help defend a DWI case. Know your DWI rights and the rights you have to recover your vehicle and get your vehicle insurance. Retain the DWI expert Doug Murphy to enforce those rights.

As a Board Certified DWI specialist and one of only two Texas lawyers holding both DWI Board Certification and Criminal Law Certification, Doug Murphy has the experience and expertise to aggressively defend DWI charges while helping clients manage collateral consequences of a vehicle accident, like recovering or disposing of the totaled vehicle and recovering the insurance to replace it. Contact Doug Murphy Law Firm online or at (713) 229-8333 to discuss your case today. Trust Texas DWI attorney Doug Murphy with your DWI defense.

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If you are facing DWI or other criminal charges in Texas, contact our office today to discuss your case, so we can begin working on your defense. Please provide only your personal email and cell phone number so that we can immediately and confidentially communicate with you.

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