Austin Police Department Announces DWI Crackdown for the Holidays

Austin Police Department has announced that anyone who is stopped by police this month will also be given a flyer warning people of the dangers of drunk driving. Austin law enforcement agencies were urging citizens to drive safely this holiday season and were joined by the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Travis County Attorney’s Office, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The holiday seasons have upticks in DWI arrests and alcohol-related driving fatalities.

Officials urged drivers to be responsible and to adhere to a strict policy of no alcohol for drivers. “The goal is to plan ahead. Have a designated driver,” Robbie Barrera with the Department of Public Safety said. “A designated driver isn’t the person at the party that’s had the least amount of alcohol. A designated driver is the person that’s had no amount of alcohol.”

The city of Austin has had 74 traffic fatalities this year, and 60% have involved alcohol.

DPS is boosting patrols between Dec. 21 and Jan. 1. There will be increased staffing and patrols will be working overtime especially on holiday days themselves such as Dec. 24 and Dec. 25.

The flyer that is being handed out to people who are stopped by police details the deaths of Mayra Vega, 18, and Emmanuel Hernandez, 16, Travis High School Students who were killed by a drunk driver in 2006.

NHTSA Announces that Drunk Driving Fatalities Dropped in 2011

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is celebrating a historic milestone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released new data showing that the number of drunk driving fatalities in 2011 fell by 2.5% compared to 2010. The number of people killed in drunk driving accidents (DUI) in 2011 was 9,978, and for the first time this number is below 10,000.

The number of people killed in drunk driving crashes in 2010 was 10,136. The 2011 fatality rate also outpaced the 1.9% decrease in overall highway deaths. MADD National President Jan Withers said, “This drop in deaths is an important milestone in our nation’s ongoing fight against drunk driving and is further validation that MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® is working. MADD urges state lawmakers to take advantage of recently passed federal funds available for states requiring all convicted drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock device.”

According to the NHSTA, the costs of alcohol-related vehicle crashes is estimated at $37 billion annually. The number of fatalities in 2010 equated to one person being killed every 51 seconds in an alcohol-related crash.

Many states will now require the ignition interlock device for repeat DUI offenders. In some cases, even first-time offenders may be ordered to install the device in their vehicle. Late in 2012, Alabama joined many other states by reforming their DUI laws and requiring these devices for certain drunk drivers.

MADD began the Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® in 2006, and since the inception of this program the number of drunk driving fatalities has dropped by 27%. The main components of the campaign includes encouraging law enforcement efforts to set up sobriety checkpoints, pushing lawmakers to require ignition interlock devices for all convicted drunk drivers, and supporting the development of technology of breathalyzers and blood analysis to test blood alcohol concentrations.

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.”

MADD and State Farm Team Up to Prevent Teenage Drinking

Red Ribbon Week started as an awareness campaign to reduce the demand for illegal drugs, and eventually expanded to include alcohol, tobacco, and violence. This week, MADD is teaming up with State Farm for Red Ribbon Week to discuss the negative consequences of teenage drinking. The team are handing out a booklet called The 411 on Teen Drinking.

The 411 on Teen Drinking is backed up with research on the prevalence of teenage drinking and the negative effects that drinking can have, especially on teens. Since the brain is still developing in the teenage years, teens who participate in excessive drinking can suffer long-term cognitive side effects. Teenagers who binge drink will score more poorly on verbal and nonverbal memory, attention focusing, and exercising spatial skills when compared to their non-drinking counterparts.

In addition to the negative health consequences of drinking, the booklet also discusses serious legal ramifications, such as what can happen if a teenager is caught drinking and driving. In addition to losing the freedom provided by a driver’s permit, teenagers can seriously affect their future opportunities by receiving a DUI early in life. Certain colleges will not admit to applicants with a DUI on their record, and jail and probation is a likely consequence as well.

According to research by Dr. van der Vorst of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, parents who try to teach their teens drinking in moderation at home does not correlate with teens practicing moderation when they are out of their parents’ sight. The research shows that the more teenagers are allowed to drink at home, the more they will also drink outside of the home.

The 411 on Teen Drinking will be distributed to schools throughout the country during Red Ribbon Week. MADD National President Jan Withers said, “When it comes to underage drinking, teens may feel like ‘everyone is doing it,’ but the truth is that only one out of five teens binge drinks — which means four and of five don’t.”

MADD Responds to Increase in Traffic Fatalities in 2012

Traffic deaths rose 9% in the first half of 2012, an increase that broke a 5-year downward trend of automobile fatalities in the United States. The preliminary data cannot yet be explained by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who said the report had not examined the causes.

MADD responded to the report by reiterating their belief that all convicted drunk drivers should use an ignition interlock device, MADD National President Jan Withers said, “MADD has a plan to eliminate drunk driving once and for all and states must do their part by passing all-offender ignition interlock laws.”

Withers pointed to the data that ignition interlocks work to prevent drunk driving, she said, “There is no longer a debate on interlock effectiveness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 15 other peer-reviewed studies, have confirmed that interlocks reduce repeat drunk driving by two-thirds.”

Congress funded a $20 million ignition interlock incentive grant program last July as part of MAP-21. States can receive special funding for interlock programs if they have legislation that requires all convicted drunk drivers to get an interlock device.

Because offenders and not the states pay for the interlock program, Withers says “there are no more excuses for states” to not implement this legislation.

MADD in DC for National Conference

MADD ConferenceThe non-profit organization MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) is in Washington D.C. for their National Conference this week. Over 300 drunk driving crash victims, survivors, volunteers and supporters are taking part in legislative meetings in an attempt to convince Congress to act on two issues:

  • Full funding for priority highway safety programs
  • Passage of a Constitutional Amendment providing for crime victims’ right

MADD is urging Congress to include the full $265 million in annual funding to implement the new federal surface transportation legislation known as MAP-21, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. MADD believes full-funding of this program is imperative to drunk driving prevention, occupant protection, distracted driving protection, motorcycle safety, improved graduate driver’s license laws and data collection, all which is needed to save lives and prevent injuries on the road by drunk drivers.

The organization is concerned that inaction of fully funding the program will force states to make even more difficult choices regarding exactly how to fund long-term traffic safety projects. MADD National President Jan Withers said, “The lack of funding for key highway safety programs is not only problematic for states’ budgets, but the American people will end up paying a much higher price through deaths and injuries. Efforts aimed at impaired driving prevention, along with other safety measures for teen drivers, vehicle passengers, and motorcycle riders should not be an afterthought.”

MADD would like Congress to also pass a Constitutional amendment to protect crime victims’ rights, which are currently only protected by statutes in the state.