Texas could get stricter DWI laws

AUSTIN, TX "We need a consistent DWI policy across the state of Texas," said Sen. John Whitmire of Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Texas had 1,269 deaths in alcohol-related traffic accidents in 2009, according to state figures.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo testified Thursday in favor of temporary sobriety checkpoints and mandatory blood tests for alleged violators. About half of Austin's traffic fatalities each year are alcohol-related, according to Acevedo.

"We are waiting way too long to intervene," said Acevedo. "If we can't intervene in people's lives, we can't change their behavior. It has to start with the first arrest."

Bill Lewis, with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said innocent citizens already are subjected to random searches, such as when they enter the airport and, more recently at the Texas Capitol.

"I've never tried to sneak a gun through the Capitol or an airport, but I have to go through a checkpoint," said Lewis.

Legislators discussed redoing a DWI program that automatically suspends a driver's license, possibly repealing a surcharge that fines convicted drunken drivers thousands of dollars and creating new treatment programs for first-time offenders.

Lawmakers should consider repealing the Driver Responsibility Program, whose surcharges include a fee of $1,000 annually for three years for first-time driving-while-intoxicated offenders, said Whitmire.

The Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Sen. John Carona of Dallas, will review the program. The Texas Department of Public Safety is working on new rules for the program to ease the surcharges for lower-income drivers, said Carona aide Steven Polunsky.

DPS earlier this year said that Texas had sent out bills for more than $1.7 billion in surcharges through last November, but just $672 million had been collected.

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