TWO ANTI-DWI BILLS PASS SENATE
(Austin) The Senate approved two measures Monday aimed at reducing drunk-driving fatalities in Texas. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety administration, Texas was second only to California in 2007 in traffic fatalities as a result of alcohol. The bills offered Monday would give police officers more tools to catch drunk drivers.
The first of these bills would expand the circumstances under which a driver can be compelled to give a blood or breath sample. Under current law, a person can only be required to take a breathalyzer or blood test without a court order if they are involved in an accident that results in death or serious injury.
SB 261, by Greenville Senator Bob Deuell, would add four more situations that would require a person to take a breath or blood test.
A person could not refuse a test if they cause an accident that leads to a person being taken to a hospital, if they are driving with a child in the car, or if they have a prior intoxication felony conviction or two DWI convictions. "Senate Bill 261 does not require a breath or blood specimen from a first or second time DWI offender, focusing only on chronic repeat offenders and those offenders who endanger the lives of children," said Deuell.
The second measure, one that would allow sobriety checkpoints, received tentative approval from the Senate. SB 298, by Dallas Senator John Carona, would allow the use of checkpoints to randomly stop drivers in an effort to find drunk drivers. Carona said his bill has a number of important safe guards built in, to address concerns about racial profiling or police harassment.
Checkpoints would be limited to counties with populations greater than 250,000 or cities greater than 500,000, Carona said, to ensure the manpower and resources are available to ensure the proper operation and administration. Checkpoint locations would be restricted to areas with a where drunk driving regularly occurs, and cannot be placed based on racial or socio-economic factors.
All stops must be video and audio taped, with the records kept for two years. A certain location can only be covered by a checkpoint once a year, for four hours at a time, and stops cannot take longer than 3 minutes. Only upon suspicion of DWI would a driver be asked to provide a driver's license and insurance card. Finally, all checkpoints must be conducted according to a written plan, and notice of the checkpoint must be published in a newspaper or on the Internet.
Carona said his bill is not about catching drunk drivers, it's about stopping people from driving drunk in the first place. "The most significant reason that checkpoints have been successful in other states isn't because of the ability to stop people," he said. "It's because when people know that there are sobriety checkpoints, they begin to change their behavior." The bill will likely come up for a final vote later this week.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, March 31, at 11 a.m.