Buzzed Driving Actually Isn’t Drunk Driving

You may have noticed a new ad campaign. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and the Ad Council are telling people “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.”

Though I’m not unsympathetic to pleas for driver discretion and safety, this is not the law in the State of Texas.

Drunk driving laws in Texas

Texas Penal Code Section 49.01(2)(A) defines intoxication for the purposes of driving as, “not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body.”

Think about this definition for a moment and specifically the term “does not have the normal use.” We all consume substances every day which purposefully cause us to deviate from being “normal”. Most have nothing to do with alcohol. We drink coffee to wake up in the morning and be more aware or we eat aspirin to stave off the effects of knee pain.

If the legal definition for intoxication was simply when a foreign substance caused us to be “slightly different” than we normally were, then it really turns the law on its head. It would, in effect, be a zero-tolerance proposition where everyone who has had a sip of alcohol is a drunk driver.

What constitutes “normal use?”

A substance that impairs your “normal use” though quite a different meaning. Imagine having knee pain but still being able to drive. The pain, therefore, did not impact the “normal use” of your knee despite your knee not being normal. See the difference?

Another example would be a headache. A person’s mental faculties are impaired, lessened, and impacted by a headache. But we can usually still function normally despite the impairment. Only when a headache is so severe as to prevent us from having the “normal use” of our mental functions would it be dangerous to drive a car?

Saying “buzzed” driving is “drunk driving” is a play on semantics. Could buzzed driving be drunk driving under the legal definition? I suppose it could be. Then again maybe not.

I can say that the new slogan is part of a continued effort to change and lower the public’s perception of what it means to be intoxicated behind the wheel.

Is this a good thing for public safety and preventing tragedy on the roadway?


Is it a good way for jurors to misapply the law and convict people who really haven’t done anything wrong?

Sure. And this is my problem with the catchy slogan.

Written by: Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian Last Updated : August 11, 2023