A New Drunk Driving Charge Proposed for Texas Drivers
Drunk driving continues to be a growing problem in Texas. In the last three years, alcohol played a role in 33 percent of all fatal crashes and 12 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in the state.
As result, reforms are continuously being proposed to increase punishment and crack down on drunk driving. A recent proposal is the creation of a new drunk driving offense – driving while ability impaired (DWAI) – that would apply to drivers whose BAC measures between 0.05 and 0.07.
No specific penalty has been proposed for DWAI, but the idea is that it would be a lesser punishment than a first-time DWI offense. Currently, first-time driving while intoxicated offenders are punished with driver’s license restrictions, up to 6 months in jail and a $2,000 fine. A “new offense would give prosecutors and judges and juries another tool to use” in deterring impaired driving, said Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo.
One person may drive dangerously at the 0.08 level, noted Acevedo, but others might be intoxicated at 0.05 or 0.06. “People sometimes focus on how many drinks they can have before they’ll go to jail,” Acevedo said. “A person may be intoxicated at 0.05, and you don’t want them out driving.”
An estimated 80 percent of DWI offenders do not re-offend more than once, so part of the reasoning in adding an lesser charge is that punishing those who are under the legal limit would make them less likely to continue to drink and drive at any level.
Fixing a “Broken” System?
Enforcement is up compared to a few years ago, and as a result the legal system is overloaded with punishing drunken drivers. Some critics say the system is “broken” since thousands of drivers arrested for DWI are pleading guilty to lesser crimes – such as reckless driving. Prosecutors are usually willing to except plea deals because of limited court resources, and defendants prefer them as a way to avoid alcohol counseling or driver’s license restrictions.
“There’s a lot of evidence we have a broken DWI system in Texas right now,” said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire. “Police, prosecutors and judges are all looking for alternatives to address the problems.” Creating a DWAI offense might help address the problem since it may keep some people, even if only a little tipsy, from driving drunk again.
Source: Austin chief pushes for new drunk driving charge