Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Charting new paths to reduce DWI

The Dallas News yesterday completed its series (discussed earlier here) on drunk driving deaths with a discussion of possible legislative actions to address the problem, declaring that
lawmakers are scrambling over what other steps to take:

•The old path: Pass stricter laws to keep drunken drivers off the streets. Critics say they haven't been effective enough in lowering the death toll.

•The new path: Loosen financial penalties for some drunken drivers. Prosecutors say the fines are so burdensome that many choose time behind bars rather than probation, which gives more access to treatment.

•The forgotten path: Lawmakers, attorneys and judges say substance abuse treatment is the best way to ensure drivers don't reoffend. But because of tight budgets, there's little chance the Legislature will increase such programs for those incarcerated for DWI offenses.

In the past, "doing something" about drunken driving mostly meant imposing more prison time and higher fines. But Texas still leads the nation in alcohol-related fatalities with 1,269 in 2008, the latest year for complete data.

Legislators will reconvene in January, and several ideas already have been bandied about, from sobriety checkpoints to requiring more use of restrictive car devices.
State Sen. Jane Nelson is proposing permanent license suspensions for drunk drivers on the second offense, seemingly ignoring testimony by Texas judges at recent legislative hearing arguing that threat of license suspensions do not increase compliance with the law. MADD is pushing sobriety checkpoints and mandatory ignition interlocks for first-time offenders. (I support making interlocks mandatory on the second offense, but 80% of first time DWIs don't recidivate, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee was told last month, and in that context interlocks aren't worth the bang for the buck on first timers and dilute focus on supervising more dangerous repeaters.)

Indeed, it would be foolish to spend vastly more resources on first offenders when Texas isn't putting enough resources into repeat offenders. The News reported that "Among the 5,159 DWI offenders with three or more DWI convictions released last year, more than half did not receive treatment in prison." Funding in-prison treatment for those with three or more DWIs to me should be a bigger priority that maximizing strict supervision of first offenders, most of whom won't recidivate anyway.

Yesterday's story also finally addressed the problem of drunk drivers choosing incarceration instead of probation because ever-tougher laws have made it untenable for average people. "Roger Bridgwater, assistant district attorney in Harris County, is alarmed by the number of drivers who choose a DWI conviction rather than probation. Ten years ago, 45 percent of drunken drivers in that county chose probation. By 2009, that dropped to 23 percent." (Then they wonder why Harris County's jail is always full.)

It's depressing to me that the political class, including the media, so exclusively focuses on criminal justice solutions to social problems like alcoholism, drug abuse, family violence, etc.. Nowhere is there a discussion of whether expanded public transport might reduce DWIs, or other structural solutions that don't rely exclusively on police and jails. Other than to disingenuously use them as a foil to imply more jail sentences should be handed out, the issue of public education and advertising wasn't even addressed in any depth. As the News says, "doing something" about DWI for legislators usually means "imposing more prison time and higher fines," even when practitioners say tougher approaches are counterproductive. And unfortunately most media coverage on the subject isn't much better about thinking outside the box on this hot-button issue.


Doug Duncan said...

How about some restrictions on the way alcohol is served in bars? Maybe we should eliminate all-you-can-drink specials, and possibly even 2-for-1 drinks at happy hour. That way, people who want to drink moderately are free to do so, but you wouldn't have bars and restaurants promoting drunkenness.

Anonymous said...

Representatives of POPULAR, Inc. (POPULAR) and the Abilene Division of Texas State Client Council (TSCCAD) report "some Taylor County residents are sharing fears their relatives will be denied parole or get harassed by local parole officers in retaliation for supporting our latest reform efforts." The groups reached out to the Ombudsman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles for help addressing what they say is a "chilling of First Amendment activity. According to the board's website,n its "Ombudsman shall receive, review and respond to complaints from the public concerning Board policies, procedures, rules and other matters within the jurisdiction of the board" with the exception of "complaints about an individual parole . . . or clemency determination. As POPULAR's Executive Director, Zena Crenshaw-Logal recently joined TSCCAD president George Stokes, Sr. in writing the Ombudsman about their concerns. The letter describes POPULAR as "a national legal reform organization" and indicates the TSCCAD is its affiliate in Taylor County, Texas.Crenshaw-Logal and Stokes note in their letter that "history and even case law confirm that parole boards and processes are sometimes instruments of
retaliation for unpopular First Amendment activity." POPULAR and the TSCCAD launched the Blind Justice Project (BJP) and debuted West Texas Beat (WTB) at an Abilene, Texas press conference on June 23, 2010. Crenshaw-Logal explains, "the BJP examines the Taylor County District Attorney's closed-file policy through social science research, investigative journalism, and grassroots advocacy. WTB is an online and print publication of the BJP, addressing relevant local news and topics in a national context."
Stokes added, "when fear of retaliation reduces our community support, it is relevant to everything we do as advocates and must be addressed for us to be
effective." In addition to being the "Community Liason" for WTB, Stokes hosts a weekly internet radio program entitled High Hopes with George Stokes.

Anonymous said...

Why is it illegal to drink a beer on the way home from the beer store after a long day at work?

Doug, where are these drink specials? I thought they outlawed those 20 yrs ago.

The criminal justice system has become predatory, far from seeking to protect and serve.

It seems protect and serve, might imply that a legally drunk but not significantly impaired driver should be followed home if pulled over within a mile from home. That would take less time for the police than impounding and booking. But today, we have gotcha policing.

Scott in Dallas

Anonymous said...

Scott in Dallas:

What evidence is there that DWI rates are "High" or that deaths from DWI are "high?"

Generally speaking Auto fatalities are at an all time low. They have been trending down for quite a while. You should compare these figures with previous figures over a 20 yr time span. I think you'll find deaths are falling in a nice consistent trend.

Atticus said...

One of the leaders of MADD has publicly admitted that the LEAST effective method of preventing DWI repeat offenders is by driver's license suspension...

Anonymous said...

"Expanded Public Transport"

Yes, thank you.

The streetcar conductor would help you off the car. And he had a switch iron in case you got rowdy.

Anonymous said...

What evidence is there that DWI rates are "High" or that deaths from DWI are "high?"

All published states point to over 16 million DWI related injury crashes every years. An additional 11 thousand people are killed every year by drunk drivers. To me, that is pretty damned high.

Drunks are far more likely to kill your loved one than an axe murderer, or someone with a gun.

Not Scott in Dallas...\
To me all surviving Drunks who drive should be put on the side of the road and shot once in the head.

* There were 11,773 drunk driving deaths in 2008.
* 2008 showed a 9.7% decrease from 2007 in alcohol-impaired driving deaths.
* Drunk driving deaths (11,773) accounted for 32% of the total amount of United States car accident deaths (37,261) in 2008.
* 1,347 children ages 14 and younger died as occupants in car accidents in 2008. Of those deaths, 216 (approx 16%) were the direct result of drunk drivers.
* Along with the 1,347 child occupant fatalities, another 34 children died as pedestrians or bikers who were hit by drunk drivers.
* Nighttime drivers were four times more likely to die in drunk driving crashes in 2008 than those driving during the daytime.
* In 2008, weekend drivers were twice as likely to be involved in drinking and driving car crashes than weekday drivers.
* The 21-24 age group accounted for 34% of all alcohol-impaired-drivers who died in accidents in 2008. The 25-34 demographic accounted for 31%, while those from 35-44 years of age accounted for 25%.
* Despite being under the legal drinking age, American teens from the ages of 16-20 were more likely to be killed while driving under the influence than adults ages 55-64. Teens accounted for 17% of all drivers who were involved in drunk driving crashes, while those from 55-64 accounted for 12%.
* Of the drunk driving crashes where seat belt use was known, nearly 75% of all drunk drivers killed in accidents in 2008 weren't wearing seat belts.
* In the United States, a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of .08 or higher is considered above the legal limit in nearly every state. The most frequently recorded BAC level among drivers who were killed in alcohol-impaired-driving accidents in 2008 was .16, or twice the legal limit.
* Drunk drivers who were over the legal limit when they died in 2008 were eight times more likely to have been previously convicted for drunk driving.
* In 2008, 6,316 passenger vehicle drivers were over the legal limit when car crashes claimed their lives.
* In 2008, it was more dangerous to drive drunk on a motorcycle than in any other vehicle. The percentage of bikers with a BAC level of .08 or greater when they died in a crash was higher than the amount of drunk drivers who died while operating other vehicle types.

* The average BAC among fatally injured drinking drivers is .16 1
* The relative risk of death for drivers in single-vehicle crashes with a high BAC is 385 times that of a zero-BAC driver and for male drivers the risk is 707 times that of a sober driver, according to estimates by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). 2
* High BAC drivers tend to be male, aged 25-35, and have a history of DWI convictions and polydrug abuse. 3

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:42, those same stats cut many different ways, as has been discussed on this blog in the past. E.g., children are almost three times as likely to drown each year as to be killed by a drunk driver.

Also it's false that "Drunks are far more likely to kill your loved one than an axe murderer, or someone with a gun." Murder rates are higher than DWI death rates in Texas, and kids in particular are three times as likely to be murdered than they are to be killed in a DWI.

And yes, there were more than 11,000+ alcohol related deaths in 2008 but 8,000-plus were the drunk drivers themselves. Another 16% or so were passengers who in many if not most cases were drinking themselves. (Often drunks will debate "who is more sober" before getting in the car.) I consider drunk drivers who kill themselves Darwin Award winners, not "victims." When you talk about "victims" of drunk drivers, it's a much smaller number - perhaps around 2,000 per year out of a nation of 350 million.

That's still a lot of folks, and every one a tragedy, but the threat to folks not participating in that behavior statistically just isn't all that great. By comparison, keep in mind that around 100,000 innocent people per year die from preventable infections acquired in hospitals.

The individual horror stories are heart wrenching, to be sure, but in the scheme of things the rates of DWI deaths among those not drinking and driving aren't as high as is often portrayed.

Anonymous said...

80 percent do not recidivate, this seems like a statistic that would be difficult to be relied upon; I would think the drunk drivers that do not get caught far outnumber those that do.

The only likely answer seems to be in alternative transportation methods. It’s unlikely that incarceration is ever going to accomplish much to actually solve the problem. If transportation was available and advertised properly it is my belief the DWI statistics as a whole would drop considerably.

Anonymous said...

"In 2008, it was more dangerous to drive drunk on a motorcycle than in any other vehicle." Total waste of electrons. 105% of motorcycle operators will endure a serious injury accident. Motorcyles should be banned perhaps, they are dangerous.

I totally agree with the mass transit argument, even called MADD over that. All those stats lack context. It's been argued that DWI laws create more accidents. Perhaps dangerous operation of vehicle would suffice. What's wrong with a drunk driver driving slowly home, even if they are rubbing the curb? Rather, fear of DWI might make them try to drive the speed limit so as not to stand out. Your stats seem to show the .08 as onerous. The older .1 seems like that would be just as effective at getting "drunks" off the road. And, allows for most people to have 2-3 drinks. That shouldn't impair a mature drinker. Those stats show that minors should perhaps be held to the .08 standard.

This isn't a big issue for me. I might smoke and drive which I'd assert is not that dangerous at all. It can encourage caution and prudence. And again, what's wrong with drinking a beer on the way home from the store? Why are there open container laws? Drinking a soda and a beer are just as distracting. Drunk is drunk, drinking is drinking.

Anonymous said...

I've always been astonished at the attitude many people have towards the police when it comes to DWI enforcement. Most of our laws are the result of people causing problems in our society. Kids can't chew gum in school because a few kids kept putting their gum on the dottom of desks and chairs. DWI is illegal because some people decided to drive while drunk and caused property damage, injury, and death. We should NOT expect law enforcement to look the other way when it comes to drunk drivers. It takes much more time and costs much more money to clean up an accident scene after a drunk crashes than it does to book someone into jail.

As for the argument about following a "not legally drunk" person home, many jurisdictions do this or have someone pick up the driver. However, that driver has to provide a breath sample in many cases to prove to the officer that he is not intoxicated. But most jailhouse and street lawyers have convinced the masses that providing a breath sample is the worst choice you can make.

I myself, and 2 members of my family, are victims of drunk drivers. We live with our scars as reminders everyday of the harm these people can cause. Incarceration is obviously not the answer. The suspect in my case chose to do his time and committed 3 more DWIs after his release from TDC. He still has not received treatment. I am all for the treatment model, and have seen my fellow probation officers focus more on treatment than incarceration, but most offenders don't want treatment, and as a result end up costing us our tax money in incarceration costs and future legal fees.

We need a societal change regarding alcohol and its effects. MADD and other groups have tried and failed at this. I don't know how to change a nation's mindset, but we need better solutions than giving people a free pass.