A Closer Look at Houston’s Impaired Driving Problem

by Terry Bryant

Houston, we really do have a problem. And it is an extremely serious one. The number of deaths caused by alcohol- and drug-impaired drivers is out of control. While one fatality anywhere in the country is one too many, the Greater Houston area leads the nation among metropolitan areas in the number of lives lost because of impaired driving.

An analysis of National Highway Transportation Safety Administration statistics performed by the Houston Chronicle discovered that from 2001-2016 there were more than 3,000 fatal wrecks involving impaired drivers in the Houston area. To highlight just how high this number is, consider that this figure is about a third more than the number of impaired driving wrecks in Los Angeles for the same time period. And the L.A. metropolitan area has about twice as many people.

Annually, more than 300 people in the nine-county Houston area are killed because of drunk or drugged driving or a combination of the two. The area averages over 5,000 accidents caused by impaired drivers each year. In addition to the death toll from car crashes, many people suffer serious and often disabling injuries.

What Contributes to the Problem?

Contributors to the problem include many things, and not everyone agrees about what they are. There are not enough police officers assigned to look for and arrest impaired drivers; there are inconsistencies by judges in sentencing drivers; and impaired drivers often receive weak sentences, including drivers who have been arrested more than once. The lack of consequences for getting behind the wheel while intoxicated leads some people to believe it is okay to do so. Additionally, there is also a serious lack of manpower when it comes to policing bars and restaurants that serve intoxicated customers or serve alcohol to minors. According to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, there are only 40 agents overseeing more than 6,000 Houston-area bars and eateries.

Ultimately it is the driver who is most responsible when he or she decides to get behind the wheel after having one too many drinks, smoking marijuana or taking illicit drugs. Texans have always been known for valuing their personal freedoms, so trying to restrict drinking and driving habits can be especially difficult here—and the problem appears to be getting worse instead of better.

Proposed Solutions

Some solutions that have been proposed in the Houston area and throughout Texas (impaired driving rates are high throughout the entire state) include:

  • Setting up DUI checkpoints—37 states allow DUI checkpoints, and studies have shown that they can reduce drunken driving crashes, and ultimately injuries and fatalities, by as much as 20%. However, some lawmakers believe they are an invasion of privacy, making them an unpopular solution for many in the state.
  • Lowering the blood alcohol limit to .05 nationwide. One study shows that this could save 1,800 lives a year throughout the country, but powerful beverage industry lobbyists are fighting this idea.
  • Interlock devices on cars. These breathalyzer test devices keep cars from starting if alcohol is detected in the driver’s system. Texas law allows judges to order their installation for some repeat offenders, but their use is not consistent.

There is no one answer when it comes to fixing the impaired driving problem. However, if you have been injured or a loved one has been killed because of an impaired driver, you should know that you have legal recourse. The experienced Texas personal injury attorneys at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law are here to help. Call us today at 1 (800) 444-5000 or contact us online.