In an effort to combat impaired driving, law enforcement and legal professionals in Harris County, Texas (home of Houston) have developed and are implementing a comprehensive prevention and enforcement initiative. One component of this initiative is the “DWI Testing Centers Project,” creating four additional intoxication-testing command centers the county’s Midwest Patrol Station. These testing centers are key because their proximity allows for stronger evidence and streamlined processing of offenders, they create digital video and audio recordings that can be transmitted in real time to the district attorney’s office, and they are available to law enforcement officers in multiple jurisdictions, leading to a cooperative approach to counter impaired driving. The centers were created at no cost to tax payers. Additional initiative components include “No Refusal Weekends” and risk assessment and rehabilitation services.
In conjunction with its “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released new research this week that shows that in 2010, more than two-thirds of the 10,228 drunk driving deaths (70 percent) involved drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .15 or higher. The most frequently recorded BAC among all drinking drivers in 2010 fatal crashes was .18, more than twice the legal limit in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, resulting in one alcohol-related death every 51 minutes. To combat this, Congress approved a $20 million incentive program in July that will award states extra money if they require drivers convicted of drunk driving to have ignition interlock devices installed on their vehicles. To date, 17 states have enacted these laws for first time offenders.
NHTSA Administrator David Strickland: Annual law enforcement campaign reminds everyone to “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration kicked off its annual “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign on August 17th, and it will continue through Labor Day. The efforts involve over 10,000 law enforcement agencies across the country putting extra resources into detecting and arresting impaired driving offenders. While impaired driving deaths declined in some parts of the country in 2010, new NHTSA statistics show that 70 percent of deaths in impaired driving crashes in 2010 involved drivers with a blood alcohol level that was nearly twice the .08 legal limit. Alcohol-impaired crashes account for nearly one in three deaths on American roadways each year; that’s the equivalent of one death every 51 minutes. NHTSA highlights the need for tough laws, consistent enforcement, and ongoing public education campaigns to make significant progress.
With 291 alcohol-related fatalities in 2011, Louisiana’s alcohol-related fatalities are above the national average. Developing a statewide DUI tracking system, an idea that gained traction in 2004 and then subsequently lost support, is now regaining popularity in an effort to curb this trend. This proposed system would link the databases of several of the state’s criminal justice agencies, creating a network in which agencies can access information such as criminal histories, arrest warrants, fingerprints and mug shots across the state, and make the information available to laptop computers in squad cars. Supporters note several benefits: a statewide tracking system would reduce the potential for someone to slip through the cracks and be charged as a first-offender, for example, when that person could have been charged as a second-offender. Also, more accurate information on the front end allows prosecutors to make informed charging decisions, which in turn affects judges’ sentencing decisions.
In Bexar County, Texas, it is not until the third offense that a DWI charge moves from a misdemeanor taken up in County court to a felony taken up in District courts. An analysis of three years worth of court records obtained from the Bexar County District Clerk reveals 52 percent of felony DWI offenders across all Bexar County District Courts get probation in cases where the sentence is decided by a judge. This means that in 700 of the 1,348 cases studied, third time offenders were still put on probation, despite having been put on community supervision for their prior two offenses. One judge cited time between convictions as a factor in his decision. The district does have available alternative sanctions such as ignition interlocks, ankle bracelets, or mandatory blood draws.