First-time Texas DWI offenders may face harsher penalties

A non-profit organization is petitioning Texas lawmakers to pass a law requiring those convicted of a first-offense DWI to get an ignition interlock. If passed, the offenders would never be able to drive under the influence again: The dashboard-mounted device prevents a vehicle from starting if it detects any alcohol on a driver’s breath.

The lobbying comes close on the heels of a recent announcement by the National Transportation Safety Board, which made the same recommendation to state legislatures across the country. The request, if implemented, would dramatically change the landscape of DWI punishments. At present, only 17 states require an interlock after the first DWI.

The NTSB’s recommendation was based, in part, on a study of wrong-way collisions, a type of accident that kills around 360 people each year. The study analyzed data from 1,566 crashes from 2004 to 2009, as well as nine wrong way collisions that NTSB staff directly investigated. In over half of the accidents — 59 percent — researchers discovered that wrong-way drivers had blood alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit. Another 10 percent of the crashes involved drivers with BAC levels between .08 and .14. In most states — including Texas — the legal limit is .08.

Alcohol-related wrong-way driving crashes on interstates, expressways and other high-speed highways attract a lot of media attention because their high speed collisions can be deadly. In fact, over 80 percent involve head-on collisions at high speeds. Common scenarios include drivers entering an exit ramp in the wrong direction, making a U-turn on the mainline of a highway, or using an emergency turnaround through a median.

The ignition-lock proposal may seem harsh, considering that alcohol-impaired crashes overall have accounted for less than one-third of the country’s motor vehicle fatalities each year since 1995, according to the NTSB statistics. However, alcohol-related accidents often attract undue media attention. For a Texas driver facing a DWI charge in this political climate, the need for an experienced criminal defense and DWI attorney cannot be overemphasized.

Source: kens5.com, “MADD pushes for interlock devices for first-time DWI offenders in Texas,” Phil Anaya, Dec. 14, 2012

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