Will New Texas DWI Laws Pass to Allow for Sobriety Checkpoints?

The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee met Monday in Austin to discuss creative ways to curb DWI in the state. San Antonio police Deputy Chief Anthony Trevino urged legislators to allow for permanent DWI checkpoints that would allow law enforcement to stop drivers and do routine sobriety tests near “drunk driving hot spots.” The deputy police chief’s idea was opposed by Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project who said that this would allow for police abuse of power.

Harrington said, “Once you start setting these roadblocks, you are basically saying the government has control over your movement.”

State Representative Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, the committee chairman, wanted “creative ways” to reduce the number of DWI’s in Texas, and said that the committee was looking for a change in DWI laws to “get on the front end of the problem.” In 2010, drunk drivers with a blood alcohol level higher than 0.08 killed 1,259 people on the Texas roadways. California, which has the second highest number of DWI deaths in the country, had 791 deaths in 2010 caused by drunk drivers.

Gallego said, “It’s always bothersome when California does something better than Texas. California – with more cars, more drivers and more people – still has less DWI-related deaths than Texas does.” This hearing was Pete Gallego’s last in the state Capitol, as he was elected on November 6th to represent U.S. House District 23.

Bexar County (San Antonio) District Attorney Susan Reed expanded “no refusal” weekends to every day of the year starting in April 2012. This means that anyone suspected of DWI in Bexar County will be required to have their blood tested if they refuse the breathalyzer. Reed said of their policy, “We are now the largest metro area in Texas to have an absolute no-refusal policy.”

Bill Lewis, MADD’s public policy liaison, asked legislators to support sobriety checkpoints by passing laws to allow police officers to conduct them. He said checkpoints could save 200 lives in Texas every year. Lewis said of lawmakers, “We have asked them to provide those guidelines for, what is it 18 years? They haven’t done it, so may it’s time to try something else.” He said he would be surprised if the checkpoints do get passed into law because he recognizes that some see checkpoints as government playing “big brother.”

Lewis did suggest to the Legislature that all first-time DWI offenders be required to use an ignition interlock device on their vehicle, which would prevent a car from starting if the driver has any detectable amount of alcohol in their system. Under Texas law, it is the discretion of the judges whether the ignition interlock device is used for DWI offenders.

Texas prohibits checkpoints based on the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, however the Corpus Christi Police Department claims to have found a loophole. Public Information Officer for the Department, Julie Garcia, claims that the department does conduct what they call “driver’s license checkpoints” routinely. If during this driver’s license checkpoint a driver is suspected to be impaired, the officer can conduct field sobriety tests, which if failed, the driver “can and will be arrested.”

Driver’s license checkpoints are also used in Lubbock County, according to Assistant District Attorney Tom Brummett, who said that these checkpoints are an effective way to legally target DWI drivers. He said, “Even though we can’t use DWI or sobriety checkpoints, the law does allow us to use driver’s license checkpoints, vehicle safety checkpoints.”

Reinstating Drivers License More Difficult for Repeat DWI Offenders in New York

drivers license

New York officials proposed new regulations that will prevent chronic drunk driving offenders from re-licensing. The Department of Motor Vehicles will review the lifetime records of drivers who are seeking reinstatement of their license after a conviction. They will deny anyone who has five or more alcohol or drug related driving convictions or incidents on their record. The new regulations also define dangerous repeat alcohol or drug offenders as one who has three or four alcohol or drug related driving convictions or incidents in the previous 25 years in addition to one other serious driving offense. A serious driving offense includes a fatal crash, a driving-related penal law conviction, an accumulation of 20 or more points on the driving record in the past 25 years, or having two or more driving convictions worth five points or higher. If these factors are met, then any application will be denied for reinstatement.
If a driver has three or four alcohol or drug related convictions and they do not have a serious conviction on their record in the last 25 years, then the DMV will deny their application for license reinstatement for five years.
DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala said, “Each year, more than 300 people are killed and more than 6,000 injured on New York highways as a direct result of alcohol-related crashes. More than 25 percent of those crashes involved a driver who had three or more drunk driving convictions.” In New York, drivers whose licenses had been suspended for drunk driving could reinstate their driving privileges only 6 months to 1 year after completing a 7 month education program. New York’s law allowed even multiple alcohol or drug related driving offenders to keep their licenses after a period of revocation. The new regulations will no longer allow this. The advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving have commented on the Cuomo administration’s crack down on repeat offenders, saying that they believe the administration has not gone far enough to toughen laws for first and second time offenders. New York’s new driver’s license regulations will require:
  • The DMV to review the lifetime record of all drivers who are applying to have their license reinstated after revocation.
  • The DMV to deny applications for reinstatement of a license after revocation if the driver has five or more alcohol or drug related driving convictions in their lifetime, or if they have 3 or more alcohol or drug related driving convictions in the past 25 years in addition to another serious driving offense during the last 25 years. Serious driving offenses include causing a fatal crash, driving-related penal law convictions, or accruing 20 or more points for driving violations within the last 25 years.
  • Those whose licenses have been revoked due to an alcohol-related offense will be required to use an interlock device on their vehicle for five years.