How Much Does a DWI in Texas Actually Cost?

If you’ve driven down Barton Springs Road in Austin, you may have noticed a billboard sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation. The billboard claims that a DWI could cost you $17,000 and directs readers to the website On the website, viewers can watch a YouTube video that illustrates through social media how an unnamed woman racked up $17,422 in debt from one night of drinking and driving.

But several Austinites have questioned the validity of the $17,000 price tag that TxDOT assigns to DWIs-enough, in fact, to prompt PolitiFact to research the true cost of driving drunk. Sure enough, the data that TxDOT relied on to create the billboard was taken from interviews with 30 people-a random assortment of DWI offenders, prosecutors, DPS employees, and more-rather than concrete data.

The video from shows a brief overview of where the $17,000 went, from the tow truck to bail and lawyer payments to a license fee. It also shows other non-monetary losses that the woman suffers, like missing out on a lake trip with friends, being dumped by her boyfriend, and getting fired-all of which, of course, are not guaranteed by a DWI.

PolitiFact found that a more accurate average of the cost of a DWI would be around $13,000. However, there are dozens of variables that even that number doesn’t account for. Attorney fees, fines, and insurance rate adjustments can vary greatly from case to case. Additionally, a University of Texas mathematician who contributed to the research claimed that an accurate average cost could only be determined on a regional basis, since attorney payments and court fees fluctuate depending on where the incident occurs.

Furthermore, even the label of “DWI” could refer to an incident involving a first-time offender who didn’t cause a collision or injuries, or a fourth-time offender who caused a three-car pileup. Obviously, the price tags for these two cases would be drastically different. For the former offender, the total for a lawyer, court fees, fines, and other costs could stay in the $6,000 range.

The message at the end of TxDOT’s video is valuable: designate a driver, and avoid spending money on court costs, towing and impoundment, and alcohol education. However, perhaps it would be more persuasive if the number displayed on the billboard reflected a more conclusive study on the cost of drinking and driving. A DWI charge will inevitably take a chunk out of your paycheck, but slapping a $17,000 price tag on all DWIs overlooks a myriad of factors that play into each case.

For more information about the costs of driving while intoxicated, visit the McMinn Law Firm which helps people who have been charged with an alcohol related offense and need an Austin DWI lawyer.

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