During April 2018, Houston police arrested 36 drivers on felony alcohol charges. Although most of these felony cases were the result of a third driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge, 14 people were arrested on a charge of DWI with a child passenger and two were arrested on a charge of intoxicated manslaughter.1 The Austin Police Department held a No Refusal Initiative from May 24 to June 11, in which detectives assisted officers in applying for blood search warrants when suspects under arrest for DWI refused to take a breath or blood test. Police collected 81 breath and 41 blood samples with consent, a total of 93 blood search warrants were issued and of 215 DWI arrests, 78 resulted in the following enhanced charges:2
- Breath samples taken with consent with .15+ blood alcohol content (BAC): 35
- Class A misdemeanor DWIs with a prior conviction: 19
- Felony DWIs with two or more prior convictions: 17
- Felony DWIs with a child passenger: 6
- Intoxication assault: 1
Drunk Driving in Texas
In Texas, a person is hurt or killed in a vehicular crash involving alcohol about every 20 minutes.3
- In 2016, 1,438 people were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes where a driver was under the influence of alcohol, which comprised 38.1% of all vehicular fatalities.4
- An estimated 33.1% of alcohol-related driving fatalities impacted people aged 21 and younger.4
- An estimated 69.2% of alcohol-related driving fatalities involved a BAC of .15 or higher.4
- An estimated 31.6% and 69.2% of drivers involved in fatal crashes had BACs of .08-14 and 15+, respectively.4
- Houston led the state in 2016 with 89 fatal DUI crashes.5
- During the 2016 Holiday Season (Dec. 1, 2016 to Jan. 1, 2017), 2,321 DUI-alcohol related traffic crashes in Texas resulted in 82 fatalities and 199 serious injuries.6
- During the 2016 New Year’s Holiday (6:00 p.m., Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, to 11:59 p.m., Monday, Jan. 2, 2017.), 4,054 traffic crashes in Texas resulted in 44 fatalities and 171 serious injuries.6
- Preliminary 2017 numbers indicate 13,177 alcohol-related crashes occurred in Texas, resulting in 521 fatalities and 1,271 injuries.8
- An estimated 56% of young adult vehicular crashes in 2017 involved alcohol and 33% of DWI fatalities impacted individuals aged 21 and younger.8
Given their size, it’s not surprising Texas’s four largest cities (e.g. Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin) incur the highest number of DWI crashes and deaths. According to a study done by the Sutliff & Stout Injury and Accident Law Firm, several smaller cities made the top 10 list for drunk driving deaths in 2017 when calculated based on capita (100,000 residents).9
- 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: 4.10
Cracking Down on Bars
On May 16, 2018, a Houston bartender was arrested two years after serving 26-year-old Edin Palacios 11 beers. Natalia Ortiz, a 25-year-old bartender at El Muelle Seafood Bar was charged with serving a drunk patron (a misdemeanor) – and forging a government document (a felony).5 A short distance from the bar while fleeing from a police officer, Palacios slammed into a car carrying 18-year-old Jocelynn Valero and her date, who were returning home from prom. Palacios had a BAC nearly double the legal limit. Valero was killed and her boyfriend incurred injuries. In April 2018, Palacios was sentenced to 32 years in prison for murder.7 “We’re not going after servers or bars that are conducting business legally, we’re going after people whose actions are criminal and negligent,” said Sean Teare, a prosecutor in charge of the Harris County District Attorney’s Vehicular Crimes Division. “When those actions result in the tragedies every day that we deal with on these roads, we’re going to come after them.” The charges against Ortiz were the latest effort by Teare’s task force, which charged three people in April with providing alcohol to a woman accused of driving drunk and killing a 36-year-old woman and her infant son. Prosecutors charged the trio with knowingly purchasing and providing alcohol to a minor, aggravated perjury and criminal negligence.5
Texas DWI Laws
According to Texas law, being intoxicated while driving means having a BAC of 0.08 or higher. Regardless of the BAC, a person is considered intoxicated and driving under the influence if he or she is impaired in any way. A typical drinker can achieve that level of drunkenness from having two or three drinks in an hour. For women and adolescents, drinking just one or two drinks in an hour may lead to a BAC of 0.08. DWI in Texas is typically a misdemeanor for the first two offenses. Drivers charged with a third DWI offense can face up to $10,000 in fines, have their license suspended and can face between two to 10 years in prison.3
Updated Ignition Lock Laws
Since September 2005, judges in Texas have been required to order ignition interlocks for all repeat offenders or first-time offenders with a BAC of 0.15 or greater as a condition of probation. On June 19, 2015, Texas became the 25th state to pass an all-offender ignition interlock law. It requires all people charged with DWI to have an ignition interlock installed on their vehicles in order to have their driving privileges restored following an arrest. In June 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed drunk driving legislation into law in an effort to save lives by providing a new incentive for first-time drunk driving offenders. HB 3016 enables first time drunk drivers with a .08-14% BAC to install an ignition interlock device. If they do so for six months without any violations and complete other terms of their Texas DWI sentence, a nondisclosure will be issued. Nondisclosure essentially wipes the conviction from the offender’s record, as if the crime never occurred.9 “This new law provides one of the biggest incentives in the nation for drunk drivers to install an ignition interlock. This is a smart justice, pro-victim approach to stopping drunk driving,” said Jaime Gutierrez, executive director of MADD Texas. “MADD strongly supports this incentive to increase the use of interlocks to save lives and reduce repeat DWI offenses.”10 “When you drink and drive, you’re 100 times more at risk to be killed or to kill someone else on the road. It’s your future, don’t become a statistic,” said Bob Colwell, public information officer for the Texas Department of Transportation.8 If you are struggling with alcohol abuse, it is important to seek professional help before you and or your loved ones become a DWI statistic. Resources:
- Ramirez F. Houston Chronicle. HPD arrested 36 on felony DWI charges in April. May 22, 2018. https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/HPD-arrested-36-on-felony-DWI-charges-in-April-12935525.php Accessed June 18, 2018.
- 19 Days of No Refusal: 215 DWI arrests made from Memorial Day to ROT Rally. Statesman website. https://www.statesman.com/news/local/days-refusal-215-dwi-arrests-made-from-memorial-day-rot-rally/1EMx4sRh0cLBvUvFYAJ2rK/ Published June 11, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2018.
- Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). Texas Department of Transportation website. http://www.txdot.gov/driver/sober-safe/intoxication.html Accessed June 18, 2018.
- State Map. Foundation for Advancing Alcohol responsibility website. https://www.responsibility.org/get-the-facts/state-map/state/texas/ Accessed June 18, 2018.
- Bartender charged for over serving drunk driver who killed teen heading home from prom. My San Antonio website. https://www.mysanantonio.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Bartender-charged-for-overserving-drunk-driver-12920793.php Published May 26, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2018.
- Holiday: Plan While You Can. Texas Department of Transportation website. https://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/media-center/psas/drunk-driving/holiday-pass.html Accessed June 18, 2018.
- Driver sentenced to 32 years in prison for killing girl on her way home from prom. ABC13 website. http://abc13.com/driver-gets-32-years-in-prison-for-killing-prom-goer/3309244/ Published April 6, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2018.
- Drive safe and sober. The Battalion website. http://www.thebatt.com/news/drive-safe-and-sober/article_fe46abb4-5fcf-11e8-8347-cf318e121a8c.html Published May 24, 2018. Accessed June 18, 2018.
- The 10 Texas Cities with the Highest Drunk Driving Fatality Rates. Sutliff & Stout Injury and Accident Law Firm website. https://mytexasinjurylawyers.com/research/deadliest-cities-drunk-driving-texas/ Published April 2018. Accessed June 18, 2018.
- MADD supports new drunk driving law in Texas. KBTX website. http://www.kbtx.com/content/news/MADD-supports-new-drunk-driving-law-in-Texas-428924913.html Published June 16, 2017. Accessed June 18, 2018.