hen one thinks of an epidemic, one usually thinks of a disease, a natural disaster, or a destructive phenomenon. If we consider an epidemic as a danger to human life and as something that has an overarching reach, could we consider drunk driving an epidemic? Should we? According to data between the years 2001 and 2016 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drunk driving, for Houston, Texas, might suggest we should.
According to said data, Houston is the deadliest city for drunk driving accidents in the United States. To put this into perspective, Houston has more drunk driving fatalities than the nation’s biggest cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco. Los Angeles had a little over 1,000 accidents fewer than Houston for the 15-year period. For a city that averages 11 fatal accidents and 12 deaths per week, Houston, and the State of Texas for that matter, has an epidemic that needs attention - an attention it has received.
Journalists, statisticians, authorities, and victims and family members of drunk driving accidents have garnered attention to reform the way drunk driving is treated and punished, as well as shedding light into some of the issues associated with the general enforcement of no-tolerance policies. This work, which definitely has not been a walk in the park, has achieved in enacting stricter drunk driving laws in Houston, as will be discussed below.
Meaningful Enforceability (or, the Issues of)
In the city of Houston, there is no doubt that drunk driving accidents should and must be stopped. The issue isn’t agreeing on whether or not police action should be taken to decrease drunk driving rates, but rather one of a lack of interest and low manpower that prevents officers to fully enforce drunk driving in the same manner as other forms of criminal behavior.
Police departments have task forces to deal with certain criminal activities, such as homicide, larceny, and riots. Due to the fact that these areas are perhaps perceived to be more dangerous than a drunk driving arrest, police departments are more interested in training for the containment of such activities. Although these activities should get the attention they deserve, situations surrounding drunk driving (such as performing breathalyzer and sobriety tests and arrests), typically are lower priority for departments and their officers. A good amount of police departments in Houston don’t have designated to patrol drunk driving behavior, and officers at times do not want to perform drunk driving stops because they see it as time-consuming. This, with the combination of other high-priority criminal activities, can place drunk driving in a dangerous state.
Furthermore, there is a disproportionate ratio of officers that monito the numerous amounts of bars and restaurants that sell alcohol; in the city of Houston, 6,000 alcohol-selling businesses are monitored by a total of 40 agents; if each business is supervised in an equal amount, this means each agent monitors 1,500 businesses. This hinders the effectiveness of catching sellers that give alcohol to minors or to already intoxicated customers.
Once Caught, Now off the Hook
Another issue the city of Houston has faced with drunk driving and drunk driving accidents is the post-arrest process for drunk drivers. From 2015 to now, over a dozen drunk drivers who were convicted in intoxicated manslaughter were released from the police without serving jail time. Similarly, there have been cases where intoxicated drivers have been released with very little punishment, and even without being punished at all. This not only places the drunk drivers back on the roads, it may increase drunk driving recidivism rates, which only cycles the process all over again.
Judge Diane Bull in Houston mentioned that a lack of consistency between other judges might be contributing to this problem. This means that a ruling by one judge can be either more lax than another, or that confusion between rulings can lend a drunk driver’s attorney grounds that a case was not properly handle, thus tossing out the case altogether.
Lack of effective monitoring is also an issue with convicted drunk drivers. The state of Texas lacks a drunk driving monitoring system. This allows drunk drivers to get on the roads again, and could increase a possibility of a drunk driving accident if drunk drivers continue to follow their dangerous and irresponsible decision to drive while intoxicated.
Placing an End to the Epidemic
There is, however, hope. Due to the amount of coverage drunk driving accidents have gathered - from journalists, statisticians, authorities, and victims and family members of drunk driving accidents - city officials have begun a new wave of zero-tolerance policies against drunk driving.
Along with the assistance of the state, that now requires drunk drivers to obtain and carry special licenses that only allow them to drive to and from their jobs, there are city initiatives that have started to take effect such as:
- The city’s police department’s new requirement for police officers to make DWI arrests in order to complete their training
- A new campaign between the district attorney’s office for Harris County and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission meant to educate in the prevention of sales to minors
- The district attorney’s office for Harris County seeking to revoke driver’s license for third-time offenders
Drunk driving is an epidemic that has plagued Texas roads for far too long. While it is true that law enforcement must protect the public from intoxicated drivers, the reality is that drunk driving prevention starts with us. Whether or not people make the irresponsible decision to drive when they are intoxicated is something that can be prevented by the person drinking and people surrounding that person in the party, gathering, or event where alcohol was served.
At the Anderson Law Firm, we hope no one makes the ill decision of choosing to drive while intoxicated, and we hope no one has to pay for the consequences of a drunk driver’s wrong doing. The injuries (and possible death) of victims of drunk driving accidents is far too painful and the stakes are far too high. Make the right decision. Don’t drink and drive.