Texas usually leads the country in the number of alcohol related traffic deaths, but in 2008 — with 40 percent of all traffic deaths alcohol related — the Lone Star State also had one of the highest rates in the country. It’s a sobering fact not lost on Research Scientist Melissa Walden of the Center for Transportation Safety (CTS).
Each year since 2002, Walden prepares the “Texas Impaired Driving Program Self Assessment” for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). The assessment is an examination that attempts to find out why our rates are so high and offers possible remedies.
“On the surface, it would seem that reducing our alcohol related crash numbers would be easy: just don’t drink and drive, prosecute those that do, and enact new laws and procedures to catch offenders. But in reality, the issue is extremely complex requiring a lot of fine-tuning to make an impact,” Walden says, pointing to numerous issues specific to Texas that have hampered efforts.
- Texas lacks a data system that tracks individuals from arrest to adjudication.
- Administrative license revocation for DWI offenders may not be productive.
- In the court system, less-experienced prosecutors are often pitted against defense attorneys who specialize in DWI cases.
- Legislative attempts, like the approval of sobriety checkpoints, have not succeeded.
Those issues and many others are spelled out in the 55-page Texas Impaired Driving Program Self Assessment report — a “living document” which highlights the positive initiatives currently underway and identifies the gaps that need to be addressed.
In order to compile the document, representatives from 25 agencies and organizations examine the problems specific to their line of work. The result has been an open dialogue that has uncovered numerous issues that have hindered their efforts.
“The individuals who have offered invaluable insight to the problem have been law officers who are charged with finding and collecting evidence against violators, members of the judicial community who are often overwhelmed with high case loads and ever-changing laws and restrictions, medical personnel who see the results of alcohol related crashes and members of advocacy groups who deal with the issue of drunk driving every day,” Walden says. She calls their participation the project’s most important accomplishment.
Legislative briefings on impaired driving
Numerous bills filed in the 82nd Session of the Texas Legislature are focused on a wide range of issues related to impaired driving. In response to requests from legislators and their staffs, researchers at the Center for Transportation Safety have prepared a series of briefing documents to provide better understanding of some of those issues. Read the legislative briefings on impaired driving.