In 2015, Texas maintained its tragic distinction of leading the nation in alcohol-impaired driving deaths with 1,323 (NHTSA, 2016). Alarmingly, 44% of Texas’ 3,516 traffic deaths in 2015 involved a driver with at least a .01% blood alcohol content (BAC). Only two states (Rhode Island and North Dakota) had a higher percentage (NHTSA, 2016). 25% of these deaths involved a driver with a .15% BAC or higher (NHTSA, 2016). In 2015, a Texas motorist died every 2 hours and 29 minutes (TxDOT, 2016). This means that in 2015 there was an impaired driving death roughly every five hours in Texas. Put these statistics together and it is undeniable that Texas has a particularly serious impaired driving problem.
Impaired driving is a critical problem for teenage drivers and children. Nationwide in 2014, 26% of drivers aged 15-20 involved in a fatal crash had a BAC of .01% or higher and 21% had a BAC of .08% or higher (NHTSA, 2016). In other words, 81% of the under-21 year old drivers who were killed with alcohol in their system registered a BAC of .08% or higher, which is illegal even for those legally permitted to drink.
With the legalization of marijuana in states near Texas, such as Colorado, driving under the influence of drugs is a growing problem. Because most states (including Texas) do not have a mandated per se limit (such as the .08% BAC threshold for alcohol), it is a challenge to prove impairment in drugged driving cases. States often rely on toxicology labs to test defendants’ blood for evidence of drugs, but such labs are having trouble keeping up with the massive demand for drug tests. It is thus crucial that courts have tools to effectively dispose of drugged driving cases.
Every two years, the Texas Legislature passes new laws aimed at fixing Texas’ grave impaired driving problem. Examples from the 2015 legislative session include the adoption of a required ignition interlock device for first time Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) offenders during the period of their license suspension and an express grant of authority for magistrates to sign blood search warrants electronically. Municipal courts in Texas, which come into contact with more Texans than all other levels of the judiciary combined, are required to follow all existing and new laws. Staying apprised of new laws and all their particularities is a significant undertaking that requires constant continuing education. Misinterpretations and misunderstandings often occur in the absence of continuing education. The Texas Municipal Courts Education Center (TMCEC), through its Municipal Traffic Safety Initiatives (MTSI) grant, seeks to give municipal judges, court support personnel, prosecutors, and city officials a thorough understanding of Texas laws and procedures so as to effectively adjudicate impaired driving cases and issue blood search warrants. The importance of this cannot be understated as 1,236 minor driving under the influence of alcohol cases were filed in Texas municipal courts in FY15 (Annual Statistical Reporting of the Texas Judiciary, FY15). Also in FY15, Texas municipal judges serving as magistrates issued 44,195 arrest warrants in Class A and B misdemeanors, which DWI offenses are usually charged as (Annual Statistical Reporting of the Texas Judiciary, FY15).
For more information contact TMCEC at 800.252.3718
A project of the Texas Municipal Courts Education Center
in cooperation with the Texas Department of Transportation