Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Harris County tries to get smarter about drunk driving

That seems to be the thrust of this story.

Convicted drunken drivers soon could face tougher scrutiny through a series of reforms designed to reduce the rate of drunken driving fatalities in Harris County, among the highest in the nation.

Repeat offenders, and those arrested for egregious blood-alcohol levels while behind the wheel, will be targeted under the Harris County Community Supervision Department’s initiative, which includes having probation officers trained on the psychology behind drunken driving assigned to those considered to be at high risk of repeat offenses while on probation.

“With higher-risk DWIs, we know that when these individuals are getting in a car, they are driving a loaded weapon,” probations department Director Teresa May said. “If they continue to drink at that level, their risk of killing someone is very, very high.”

In 2013, about 13,000 people – half of all Harris County probationers – were on supervision for a misdemeanor driving-while-intoxicated conviction. Thousands more crowd county jails.

Harris County has the highest rate of alcohol-related traffic fatalities among large counties in Texas and, some years, the nation. In 2012, 2,809 alcohol-related crashes caused 175 deaths and 942 serious injuries in Harris County, according to the Texas Department of Transportation’s most recent statistics.

A 2009 report found that 60 percent of traffic deaths in Harris County were alcohol related – twice the national average. It sparked county-wide reduction efforts that May, who was hired last year, has now joined.

She has pushed for numerous changes at the probation department, including the gradual implementation later this month of a new risk assessment for all convicted defendants that aims to determine how likely a person is to re-offend while on probation and, for the first time, why.

Currently, about 6 percent of DWI offenders have their probation revoked for any reason, May said.

Of the 400 probation officers put through a “Hard Core Drunk Driver” course, 60 were selected to receive ongoing training and work with DWI probationers at the highest risk of re-offending. Those officers will have a limited number of cases assigned to them so that they have more time to work with each offender and judge.

The probation officers have gotten some specialized training for how to deal with likely repeat offenders, and judges have agreed to sentencing guidelines to abet this effort. These reforms have been done elsewhere, though the story doesn’t cite any statistics about their effectiveness. It certainly sounds like a reasonable approach to take, though it would be nice to get the perspective of a defense attorney on this, as well as some data.

On a side note, Grits points to a Statesman story that suggests better transit options as well as the availability of ridesharing would help decrease the incidence of DUIs because they would give folks that go out drinking easier non-driving ways to get home. Keep that in mind as we go forward with Metro’s bus reimagining and the Uber/Lyft debate.

Related Posts:

Comments are closed.