Many Texans have fought for stronger drunk driving laws and state lawmakers are beginning to listen.
We enjoyed a small victory with the passage of an ignition interlock device law this summer. First time DUI offenders may opt to install an ignition interlock device in exchange for a one-time opportunity for a non-disclosure, meaning the DWI would be removed from the driver’s record after five years.
But this is only one short step on the path to truly safer roads. What’s next?
Texas legislators have other DWI bills for the next legislative session. Here is a look at some of those.
Central database for defendants that were ordered to install an ignition interlock device
Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports that about one-third of drivers arrested on DUI are repeat offenders. Ignition interlock devices deter those convicted for driving drunk from doing so again. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published a study earlier this year that found the installation of ignition interlock devices decreased DUI related fatalities by seven percent. These machines work.
With that in mind, why not make enforcement easier? TX H.B. 4003 would help. The proposed bill would create a central database of defendants who have been ordered to have the ignition interlock device installed and provides access to police officers through a mobile data terminal.
Increased penalties for intoxication manslaughter
H.B. 3953 changes one word of Section 49.08 of the Texas Penal Code. But that single word could bring more disincentive to drive while intoxicated, not to menation a stronger sense of justice to those whose loved ones were killed by drunk drivers. Currently, intoxicated manslaughter is a felony in the second degree, while the new law would it first degree.
The difference between first and second degree is enormous. A drunk driver currently faces two to 20 years for causing a fatal wreck. Under the proposed law, a drunk driver may be sentenced from five to 99 years for intoxication manslaughter. That might make a lot of people think twice before attempting to drive drunk. The bill has so far stalled in the House.
Increased penalties for Intoxication assault and manslaughter under certain circumstances
H.B. 1327 increases penalties for a repeat DWI offender who causes a serious or fatal crash. The law also imposes enhanced penalties if the drunk driver severely injured more than one person or injured a person who is a first responder, is younger than 17, or sustained a traumatic brain injury that resulted in a persistent vegetative state. Penalties are also increased if the drunk driver fled the scene or was driving without a valid license or insurance coverage. There has been no movement on this bill either.
Increased requirements to sue bars
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news in the legislature. S.B. 875 weakens dram shop laws in Texas. The proposed amendment to the code imposes additional provisions on the cause of action and recovery of damages. This law has not moved through the Senate.