Texas fights to curb drunk drivers


Senator Wentworth column                                        Contact: Margaret Patterson


For immediate release/April 13, 2007                            (210) 826-7800



Sobriety checkpoints would be another weapon in fight to curb drunk drivers



by Jeff Wentworth


State Senator, District 25  



            In 2005, alcohol-related crashes claimed the lives of 1,569 people in Texas.


            Of those who died, 1,371 were driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher, which means they were legally drunk.


            Through the years, many of you have contacted me and other legislators to express outrage when a drunk driver crosses a median and kills an entire family, or an intoxicated teenage driver crashes into a utility pole and turns a joyous prom night into a devastating tragedy.  The Texas Legislature responded by passing bills to curb drunk drivers.  In spite of alcohol-related laws enacted and programs instituted, Texas remains a national leader in the number of people killed annually in alcohol-related crashes.


            After listening to your concerns and suggestions, and to testimony given before the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security by Georgia Chakiris of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, I believe it is time that Texas law officers have another weapon to use in the fight to curb drunk drivers.  Texas needs, and is ready for, sobriety checkpoints. 


            The Scripps Research Center’s 2005 Winter Texas Poll showed 67 percent of Texans favor a law that would allow sobriety checkpoints.  


            Senate Bill 59 by Senator Judith Zaffirini and co-authored by Senators John Carona and Chris Harris would allow law enforcement agencies to establish checkpoints on highways or streets to determine whether persons are driving while intoxicated (DWI).


            Documented studies show that the implementation of an intensive sobriety checkpoint program could reduce alcohol-related fatalities by an estimated 20 percent, saving approximately 300 lives in Texas each year.


            The Centers for Disease Control strongly recommends sobriety checkpoints based upon their effectiveness in reducing alcohol-impaired driving and alcohol-related crashes.  Sobriety checkpoints not only detect motorists who are DWI, they also deter possible drunk drivers by increasing the perceived risk of arrest.  Many DWI repeat offenders persist in their behavior because they are not afraid of being arrested and penalized.


            Thirty-eight states allow law enforcement agencies to implement sobriety checkpoints.  When cities implement them, the results are clear.  Well-publicized sobriety checkpoints decreased impaired driving crashes by as much as 23 percent in communities in Tennessee, California, New Mexico and Florida.


            The United States Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of properly conducted sobriety checkpoints.  Senate Bill 59 clearly defines the rules for implementing sobriety checkpoints, such as stopping vehicles on a predictable, non-arbitrary basis rather than randomly.  A law enforcement agency would be required to publicize the operation of a checkpoint but is not required to disclose the precise date, time, location or purpose.


            While sobriety checkpoints won’t stop all alcohol-related crashes, they would be another measure to help protect sober motorists from those who continue to drink and drive.