Texas holds the dubious distinction of leading the nation in alcohol related traffic deaths, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The number of fatalities due to drunken driving in the state rose by 34 to a total of 1,354 in 2006.
In an effort to curb drunken driving around the Labor Day holiday authorities are launching an advertising campaign and an early start to increased enforcement.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, along with state and local authorities, began its traditional holiday battle against drunken driving a week early this year. The “Drunk Driving: Over the Limit, Under Arrest” campaign started last week and runs through Sept. 3.
Tom Vinger, spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said summer is always a high point for drinking and driving. State troopers make a third of the drunken-driving arrests in the state, he said.
“Labor Day is typically the last big summer blowout,” Vinger said. “Combined with all the families traveling on vacation, drunk driving can cause serious problems. It should be a concern for everyone on the highway.”
More than 10,000 agencies nationwide are participating in the campaign, according to the highway administration. Congress provided the agency with an additional $11 million for a national advertising campaign, in partnership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to strengthen the campaign this year.
There have been 8,210 arrests for DWI in Texas since October, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
The federal highway administration reported that 1,569 people were killed and more than 63,500 were injured in alcohol-related crashes in Texas in 2005, the most recent data available. Alcohol was a factor in 45 percent of the fatal crashes in Texas in 2005. The national average was 39 percent.
Joel Mallard, a traffic safety specialist for the Fort Worth district of the transportation department, said numerous local police agencies have received grants to pay for more DWI enforcement. Other cities rearrange shifts and manpower to increase enforcement during peak drunken-driving hours, he said.
Vinger said the heightened vigilance produces results.
“There are more arrests during these periods,” Vinger said. “If you drink and drive, your chances of being arrested go up significantly over the next week or so.”
A first-time arrest for drunken driving is a Class B misdemeanor offense that carries the possibility of 180 days in jail, a fine of up to $2,000 and the loss of their driver’s license for as long as a year.
A second offense within 10 years is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a $4,000 fine and a year in jail. Subsequent offenses are third-degree felonies, punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.
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