List: Cities Where Texas Drunk Drivers Die Most Frequently

texas-dui-fatalitiesA Texas law firm has been paying attention to drunk driving in the state, in order to answer the question: Where are you most likely to be killed by a drunk driver in Texas?

Why ask the question? Drunk drivers are dangerous everywhere – they injure, kill, and cause sorrow and distress in every city and county.  But perhaps focusing on fatalities will get the attention of those who have the ability to prevent this crime. A drunk driver, after all, kills one person every 51 minutes in this country.

The list, compiled by Sutliff & Stout Injury and Accident Law Firm, uses TXDOT data to calculate which major towns and cities have the most DUI fatalities per capita.

As it turns out, these cities are the ones that came out the worst. The numbers refer to the number of alcohol-related fatalities per 100,000 population.

  • Odessa 6.26
  • Midland 6.19
  • Dallas 5.88
  • San Marcos 5.21
  • San Antonio 5.15
  • Baytown 5.12
  • Longview 5.09
  • Waco 4.63
  • Houston 4.36
  • Lubbock 4.1

What can we learn from this list? The cities range from Houston, with a population of 2.3 million, to San Marcos, which has just 62,000 people.  Geographically they are all over the map, and their economic and demographic profiles are different.

Here are some possible factors that unite this cities in this unhappy group:

  • Culture of Drinking and Drunk Driving. Drinking is more popular in some places than others, and drunk driving is tolerated more in some places as well. No one knows exactly why this is, but it might be that people tend to be more easygoing about letting friends drive drunk in Odessa than they are in, say, Frisco or Brownsville, which have low DUI fatality numbers.
  • Enforcement presence. If you know you are going to get pulled over, you’re more likely to watch what you drink before driving.  Cities with active sobriety checkpoints and DUI patrols not only catch more drunk drivers, but also warn other drivers to behave themselves.
  • Interlock compliance. Texas has a good all-offender ignition interlock law. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. All those convicted of DUI are required to install the device. But not all offenders do. It’s very possible that some municipalities have a more lax oversight on interlock compliance, which means that it’s easier for first offenders to become repeat offenders who cause DUI fatalities.

There may be other reason, and we hope that other public-spirited institutions follow the example of Sutliff & Stout and dig into the data to reveal more about how and why we drink and drive, and how we can prevent it.

Driving Drunk With a Child in the Car Equals Child Abuse

new-mexico-child-endangerment

You may love your children more than anything in the world. You may treat them well, keeping them out of harm and never laying a hand on them.  But if you let them ride in a car that you’re driving drunk, you’re a child abuser.

So says, most recently, the Las Cruces Police.  A man from Hatch, New Mexico was driving in Las Cruces recently when, according to reports the police received, he swerved across a couple of lanes on Solano Drive.  When he was stopped, the police found several cans of beer, an odor of alcohol – and two boys, aged 8 and 10.

Once the failed the breathalyzer test, he was charged with two counts of child abuse as well as aggravated DWI.

Unlike most states, New Mexico does not have a specific child endangerment law which raises the penalties if a drunk driver has minors in the vehicle.  However, drivers can be charged with child abuse, which is a third degree felony in New Mexico, carrying a 3-year prison sentence and fines of up to $5,000.  And that is just for a first offense.

The need for such laws is understandable: as bad as drunk driving is, it’s worse when adults betray the trust that children place in them by endangering them.

Here, though, is another way to look at it: all drunk driving can be child endangerment. Impaired drivers don’t just risk their own lives or those of their passengers. They’re also placing at risk other drivers, other passengers, and pedestrians.  Those can include children, and sadly, they often have.

All DWI laws exist for the protection of innocents. The most vulnerable of us need the extra protection afforded by child endangerment and child abuse laws. For that reason, road safety advocates have for many years pressed for stronger measures for those who put young lives at risk.

Tennessee DUI Drivers: No Alcohol Sales for 8 Years?

tennessee-dui-no-alcohol-saleWhat’s the cause of drunk driving? You could say it’s alcohol, because you can’t drive drunk without it. However, if that’s true, you could also say that vehicles are the cause, because you need those too. In fact, impaired driving – particularly repeat drunk driving – is a complex problem requiring a varied set of solutions.

Some legislators in Tennessee have decided that selling alcohol to convicted drunk drivers is what causes repeat offenses. Their prevention strategy is to prohibit alcohol sales to anyone convicted of a Tennessee DUI.

  • First offense – prohibition for one year
  • Second offense – prohibition for two years
  • Third offense – prohibition for eight years

The original bill, HB 1698, stipulated a lifetime ban for a third offense, but that was obviously deemed too harsh, and it was amended.

How the Alcohol Sale Ban Would Work

If convicted for a Tennessee DUI, an offender would receive a new license with a red strip on it, indicating that the possessor is banned from buying alcohol. Presumably the regular license would be restored after the restriction period is over.

Yes, But Will it Work?

There is evidence that various restrictions on alcohol sales can be helpful in reducing drunk driving on the whole. For instance, a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that higher alcohol taxes save lives on the road.

However, people have been known to obtain alcohol despite legal prohibitions – witness the amount of underage drinking in this country.

Better Solution: Longer Ignition Interlock Periods

Ultimately, the problem isn’t the purchase of the alcohol but the use of it while driving. The best way to address that crime is with an ignition interlock, which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Tennessee already has a good interlock law, but if legislators want to prevent a motorist from driving drunk for 8 years, then an 8-year interlock term would be a better idea than an 8-year prohibition on alcohol sales. The interlock protects the public from the offender’s decision to drink and drive

We all understand that, when it comes to impaired drivers taking lives on Tennessee roads, Something Must Be Done. But level heads should prevail and preventions chosen which are proven to work. That’s what Tennessee needs and deserves.

Missouri Once Again Spurns DUI Checkpoints

no-missouri-dui-checkpointsSobriety checkpoints – roadblocks at which police stop cars and ask drivers if they’ve been drinking – are controversial. Most states at least permit them, and many use them as an efficient means of catching drunk drivers before they do harm.

But ten states have outlawed them on the basis that they conflict with the state constitution.

Missouri is on the fence. Missouri DUI checkpoints have not been outlawed, but for the second year in a row the Missouri House Appropriations Committee has allotted just $1 per year to them, signaling disdain for a law enforcement tool that is a staple in neighboring states.

The Case for Sobriety Checkpoints

The Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that sobriety checkpoints met Fourth Amendment requirements. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. The court ruled, essentially, that the “search” aspect of a DWI checkpoint was not invasive enough, as it just involved a slight delay and a question or two from the police officer. That is, the court implied, a far cry from storming into a home and emptying file cabinets.

Keep in mind that offices cannot just stop whatever driver they choose: the checkpoints must be announced beforehand, and a guidelines must be set: every tenth driver, say – so that discrimination does not come into play.

Moreover, sobriety checkpoints do work. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that checkpoints can slice a good 20 percent off alcohol-related fatality numbers. Not only do officers at roadblocks nab drunk drivers, but drivers who pass the checkpoints on a night out tend to be more careful about drinking afterwards. The deterrent effect is well-known.

The Case Against Sobriety Checkpoints

Opponents of DUI checkpoints believe that stopping multiple drivers without any probable cause is an unreasonable search, and exactly what the Fourth Amendment was designed to prevent. Stopping people and demanding to see their licenses is, for some, a tactic too close to police-state methods. There are also worries that the checkpoints exist to troll for fines and target undocumented immigrants. The dissenting Supreme Court judges in the 1990 case cited other rulings which condemned “suspicionless random stops of motorists for investigatory purposes.”

The Good News: Saturation Patrols, Ignition Interlocks

Even without DUI checkpoints, Missouri has resources to fight drunk driving – the Appropriations Committee allotted $20 million for anti-DUI efforts. The most effective of these are:

  • Saturation patrols, in which officers are concentrated in a single area for the purpose of seeking out drunk driviers
  • Ignition interlocks – Missouri requires ignition interlock devices for all drunk driving offenders. The devices prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking

For the present, Missouri DUI checkpoints are not a thing. Legislators have made their choice, and it’s up to law enforcement to use the tools available to keep the state’s roads safe.

Driving on 4 Flat Tires: “Is Something Wrong, Officer?”

driving-with-four-flat-tires-duiMaybe you read about a winner of the Miss Washington pageant who had to give up her crown in 2016 because she was arrested for DUI after she was pulled over for driving with two flat tires.

Recently Florida was the scene of an event twice as dramatic. A motorist was arrested in Port Lucie for driving with four flat tires. The woman was pulled over not just for the flats, but for driving under 10 miles an hour in a 40 mph zone.

What makes the story a bit scary is that the woman in question did not think anything was wrong. If you’ve ever driven with one flat tire, much less four, you know that it does not feel normal.

Alcohol, however, dulls the senses. It dulls the hearing, so she might not have heard the rims clanging on the asphalt. It diminishes concentration, which is why she might not have noticed that the 2012 Honda CR-V was a bit harder to steer than usual.

That’s scary because if she was oblivious to the effects of driving with four flat tires, she would have been oblivious to any car or pedestrian she hit as well.

Fortunately, no cars or people were hit. But the fact remains that it’s possible to get in a car and drive despite a level of impairment that is almost incapacitating. That is the reason that ignition interlocks are the preferred response to drunk driving. It’s far too easy to drive a car drunk. Having an ignition interlock makes it impossible, which helps protect society from repeat drunk drivers.

Florida should require ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenses, as 31 states now do. It’s up to concerned citizens to make this happen. The drunk drivers aren’t listening – as we’ve just seen, they can’t even hear.

How Not to Refuse a Florida Sobriety Test: Bite the Cop

refuse-florida-sobriety-test-biteDUI patrol is not an easy job. It was particularly hard for some Leon County officers who responded to a call after a crash in Tallahassee. It appears an SUV had run a car off the road. The SUV’s  driver was unable to focus or speak.

Worse, when deputies tried to put her in the patrol car, she tried to bite them.

Eventually the officers had to call for backup to subdue the suspect.

The point is not that people should not bite police officers – though we stand by that rule as well. What’s  scary is that a person can get drunk enough so that she can’t finish a sentence, can’t control her actions, and can’t comprehend the trouble she’s in, yet she can drive a vehicle. And that’s the way it will be until some kind of technology arrives that prevents someone drunk from driving any vehicle.

As it stands, there is technology to keep drunks from driving some vehicles – those equipped with an ignition interlock. Right now 30 states mandate the devices for all drunk driving offenses. Florida does not – only first-time convicted drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 or over are required to use the device. With repeat offenders it’s .08, as it should be.

The extreme nature of this encounter underscores the danger that alcohol poses on the road. A driver who is not aware that she’s broken the law and caused damage is a driver who could easily kill. Fortunately, no one was injured. A bike path was nearby, so it could have been much worse.

Florida also does not require an ignition interlock for refusing a sobriety test – even if that includes biting the tester. Legislators need to get together in Florida and pass some new drunk driving laws.

Ones with teeth.

 

Why Walk Like MADD in Gainesville Saturday? Her Name is Emily.

emily-cook-walk-like-madd

Emily Elizabeth Cook 1999 – 2014

There are a lot of ways to spend a Saturday morning in Gainesville, Florida. The most worthwhile way to pass this coming Saturday – 7 April 2018 – would be a walk to raise funds – and awareness – for the fight against drunk driving. The event is the Gainesville 2018 Walk Like MADD, organized by the northeast Florida chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

You don’t need a good reason to take a walk, but there is a very good reason for this one: her name is Emily Cook, a 15-year-old girl high school freshman who lost her life because she rode with a driver she didn’t know had been drinking. The driver lived, but Emily and her 13-year-old friend Ashely Ertle – the driver’s daughter – were killed. That was in 2014.

Emily’s mother, Mary Kelley, is providing the momentum for the event. The goal, according to Judy Cotton, Program Specialist for the Northeast Florida MADD, is “to bring awareness to this senseless and 100% preventable crime and to end drunk and drugged driving once and for all.”

MADD’s motto is No More Victims. The organization uses funds raised to support anti-drunk driving legislation (no-refusal laws, mandatory ignition interlock laws, and other proven measures), to help victims, and to raise awareness of the devastation that impaired driving causes on our roads and streets.

The route of the walk, which begins at 9 a.m., will pass by the scene of the crash on NW 53rd Avenue.

Participants who would like to walk, join a team, or create a team can register with MADD online. For some it will be a pleasant walk and a learning experience. For others it will be a time of remembrance. We hope that it will be another step toward No More Victims in Florida and beyond.

Gainesville Walk Like MADD 2018

Date: April 7, 2018

Place: Trinity Methodist Church

Registration: 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.

Event: 9:00 a.m. – Noon

Idaho’s Governor Signs All-Offender Ignition Interlock Law

idaho-signs-all-offender-ignition-interlock-lawIt began in California with something called the Farr-Davis Safety Act of 1986. That law required DUI offenders in four counties to use a new device called an ignition interlock, which used breathalyzer technology to prevent a car from starting if the driver has been drinking. The devices worked well, and  some public safety advocates wanted them for all offenders, not just repeat drunk drivers. In 2005 New Mexico became the first state to require all DUI offenders to use interlocks. Louisiana and Arizona followed, with good results: it was found that mandating the devices for all offenders reduced alcohol-related road deaths by a significant amount – in New Mexico’s case over 30 percent.

Which brings us to Idaho. 25 years later, Idaho has become the 31st state to require ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders. Governor Butch Otter just signed HB551 into law.

This is great news for Idahoans, who will be safer on the road. Every day convicted drunk drivers will try to drive after drinking – despite the law and what they know about the consequences – and every day the device will register “fail” and shut off their ignitions.

One state is an experiment. 30 is a trend, and it’s a trend that is saving lives all over the country. Our thanks to Gvernor Otter and the forward-thinking legislators who made HB551 possible.

Affluenza Teen Being Released. How Do We Feel About That?

ethan-couch-affluenza-teen-1Time flies. The question some are asking is if it’s flown too fast for Ethan Couch, the notorious “affluenza teen” who, at the age of 16, killed four people in a drunk driving crash he caused in Fort Worth, Texas.

Originally, Couch was sentenced to 10 years’ probation and therapy, but no prison time. The perceived leniency of that sentence caused nationwide outrage.

In any event, Couch did go to prison, due to subsequent violations. Altogether he has served two years in jail – 6 months for each of the four lives he ended. His term is almost up and victims’ families are faced with the prospect of seeing the man who caused their loved ones’ death walk free.

Unrepentant

There is sure to be objections to – even outrage at – his release, since sympathy is not something Couch comes by easily. He showed little remorse at his trial, and violated his probation terms. MADD and other anti-drunk driving activists were disgusted and angered when a video surfaced showing him drinking and carousing with friends, despite being banned from drinking by the judge.

Couch and is mother made things worse when they fled to Mexico, where they were eventually arrested and brought back to face justice.

Affluence and Teen Responsibility

Couch’s wealth and privileged upbringing was blamed for his unwillingness to take responsibility for the manslaughter. The psychologist who used the term “affluenza” in Couch’s defense now regrets the term, which he noted is a more modern way of saying, “spoiled brat.” The term “affluenza teen” caught the public imagination, though what the term stood for varied depending on if you thought the problem was wealth, modern society, alcohol, parental irresponsibility, or something else.

The Terms

Couch will continue to answer to the Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. These are the terms of his probation:

  • He will have to wear an ankle monitor which tracks his location
  • He has a 9 p.m. curfew every night, and cannot leave his house until 8 a.m. the next day
  • He must submit blood, breath or other samples whenever required
  • He will wear a patch which registers if he has been drinking alcohol, or else must call a drug test hotline daily
  • All medications must be prescribed by a medical professional, and must be reported to probation
  • He must use an ignition interlock which is equipped with a camera (to verify that he is the one submitting the breath sample)

Most of these terms are designed to keep the public safe – ignition interlocks in particular, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. The close monitoring to prevent any alcohol or drug consumption is more to assist with his rehabilitation.

Interestingly enough, the psychologist at his original defense recommended not just treatment, but also no contact with the parents. That doesn’t appear to be among the requirements

Should Couch keep to these terms, he will not pose a danger to others on the roads, and might even evolve from the callousness being that his upbringing made him into someone more responsible.

What will never make sense to victims is how someone who has caused so much pain will once again walk the streets – and possibly drive on them. No justice system can fill the void left by the death of a loved one.

Road Safety Organization Tells Teens: You Are Worth It

What’s a life worth? More than anything else, most of us would say. But teenagers in particular don’t always act as if they agree. Too many of them routinely threaten their own lives – and the lives of others – needlessly by drinking and driving. An organization in Louisiana was created to address this problem by challenging the belief that lies behind this carelessness.

“You Are Worth It” was started by Bill Baldridge, who was a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver back in his teenage years. Two of his friends were killed in a crash that night. Baldridge lost his legs. Now he’s dedicating his time to preventing drunk driving.

The message of the organization, which can be found on its Facebook page, is direct and not the usual one directed at teens:

Your life and future is more valuable than the effort it takes to have a plan and be safe if using alcohol.

Telling kids not to drink is not on the agenda at YAWI. Planning is the point: if you drink, make a plan to get home safely that does not involve driving or riding with a drunk driver. Positive messages, we are finding, work better with teens than stern warnings.

Baldridge, a former police deputy and now a fire services dispatcher, has created youth empowerment programs designed to help teens realize their worth, their abilities, and their potential. The programs help young people pursue careers and achieve independence.

Encouragement and rewards, then, are the tools that You Are Worth It uses to inspire youth to make good decisions. It’s a worthy project. Bill Baldridge has taken the lessons he’s learned from his mistakes and life challenges and is using them to improve the lives of the next generation. That’s true generosity. Louisiana should be thankful for the gift YAWI is giving its youth.

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