A study by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition revealed that the percentage of fatal DWI accidents in Texas has increased over the last decade, from 26 percent in 2003 to 34 percent in 2011. This shocking statistic is despite the fact that in 2003 Texas passed its Driver Responsibility Law, legislation that punishes convicted drunk drivers with heavy fines. Now legislators are trying to end the law, but many citizens still support it.
Why End It?
Many Texans feel the law is fair. Those who choose to drive while intoxicated should pay the price. Additionally, the fines collected were intended to benefit the state by helping to fund state highway projects and hospital trauma care.
However, many who oppose the legislation say the study speaks for itself. DWI accidents have not decreased since passing the Driver Responsibility Law. Many say the law means well, but doesn't address the problem. More should be done to prevent DWI accidents instead of a law that only punishes after a tragic accident.
Another problem is that people are not paying. Prosecutors say they can't handle the case load created by the those owing the fines. According to the state, 60 percent of those owing have not paid. That's a total of $1.7 billion owed to Texas. That also means the highways and hospitals that were supposed to get extra funding only saw a small amount of money. Critics of the legislation say the law has no benefits and creates a backlog of cases for prosecutors. Even Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), who co-authored the law, says it's not working.
As of right now, there's no state law proposed that would replace the Driver Responsibility Law. The solution is just not that simple. A lot of suggestions are being discussed, including an additional alcohol and tobacco tax. Many agree the solution must include prevention and more intervention programs for offenders. The goal should be to reduce fatal accidents, not only punish those responsible after-the-fact. We'll keep a close watch as Texas representatives debate this law and its alternative.