Alex Elizabeth Ford was just trying to get home.But the 20-year-old college student, killed in a fiery head-on collision in Grand Prairie on June 21 with a wrong-way driver whose blood-alcohol level was described as being nearly four times the legal limit, never made it."My child had her whole life ahead of her," said Ford's mother, Jennifer Rosenberg. "I'll never get to see her get married and have children of her own. It's a huge hole in your heart that never heals."Nobody should have to go through this."Safety advocates and law enforcers say scores of deaths like Ford's might be avoided each year in Texas if they are allowed to set up roadblocks to check for drunken drivers.As deaths and arrests related to drunken driving continue to make headlines in North Texas and beyond, checkpoint advocates are calling on Texas lawmakers to legalize sobriety checkpoints and pass other measures to crack down on driving while intoxicated - actions they say would help prevent Texas from continuing to lead the nation in drunken-driving deaths.In 2010, at least 10,228 people were killed nationwide in alcohol-impaired crashes, according to the most recent statistics.More than 1,200 were in Texas."Research shows drunk-driving fatalities would decline by 20 percent if most agencies ran a sobriety checkpoint," said Bill Lewis, the public policy liaison for the Texas chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "That would go a long way toward reducing our leadership in drunk-driving fatalities."Sobriety checkpoints, allowed in 38 other states, have been outlawed in Texas since the state's top criminal court ruled in an Arlington case 18 years ago that they are unconstitutional unless they follow guidelines set by the Legislature, which has not set any guidelines.No bill has been filed, but the lobbying is under way as lawmakers expect to debate the issue again in the legislative session that begins Jan. 8. Other anticipated bills include one to require ignition interlocks to become mandatory for first-time DWI offenders.Not everyone supports the push for checkpoints."I think this is just cheap political maneuvering that's going on," said Jim Harrington, director of the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project. "No. 1, checkpoints are not necessary, and No. 2, they would expand police power enormously. Every time you do that, they have more discretion and they can use it in discriminatory ways."Programs against DWI have been successful in raising the consciousness of the public," he said. "You get to a point where you have to balance our fundamental rights to be free from government intrusion. I think we are at that point."'Cultural change'MADD officials estimate that the average drunken driver has been intoxicated at least 80 times before he or she is ever arrested once.In 2010, more than 1.4 million DWI arrests were made nationwide. Not only did 10,228 people die in drunken-driving accidents that year, but 345,000 others were injured, federal transportation and crime statistics show.The issue of sobriety checkpoints in Texas arose this month during a meeting of the state House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, when members reviewed an interim charge to study DWI laws, including requiring interlocks after a person's first offense, as well as how law enforcers nationwide are enforcing laws."We really do need to make a cultural change in the state of Texas when it comes to driving under the influence of alcohol," San Antonio Police Chief Anthony Trevino told the committee.Suggestions were discussed including sobriety roadblocks, additional "no refusal" weekends (where breath tests and blood tests are sped up on suspected drunken drivers) and interlocks for first-time offenders. The committee's recommendations could come out this year, officials say.Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, a member of the committee, said he supports interlocks but has "some problems" with sobriety checkpoints."Anytime you start stopping people without justifiable cause ... I think that creates a problem," he said.State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who has previously supported the requirement for sobriety checkpoints, may file a similar bill, according to her office.CheckpointsCheckpoints are generally conducted by stopping vehicles based on some numeric value, such as every third vehicle.Once the vehicle is stopped, law enforcers check the driver for signs of intoxication.Proposals for checkpoints have been made in nearly every legislative session in Texas since 1994, when the Court of Criminal Appeals said such checkpoints are unconstitutional unless a statewide governmental entity establishes guidelines.At issue was an Arlington case from May 25, 1991, when a checkpoint was set up in the 1200 block of West Division Street.Regina Holt was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated after a witness told police that Holt and a passenger switched places in the car as they approached the roadblock. Holt filed a motion to suppress evidence seized through the checkpoint, saying the roadblock violated her rights against unreasonable search and seizure.A court in Tarrant County ruled in her favor, and the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth reversed the decision. In the end, the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the trial court, and sobriety checkpoints have since been unused in Texas because there are no guidelines."The Legislature knows as soon as they provide guidelines, somebody is going to start running" checkpoints, Lewis said. "The Legislature so far has not wanted us to run sobriety checkpoints."MADD has put petitions online that supporters of sobriety checkpoints can send to their lawmakers.Ignition interlocksArlington and other communities will once again ask lawmakers to allow sobriety checkpoints. Officials will also ask that ignition interlocks become mandatory for first-time DWI offenders.This year, 67 percent of the fatal crashes in Arlington were linked to drunken drivers, interim Police Chief Will Johnson said.Last year, that figure was closer to 38 percent of all traffic fatalities."The number of intoxicated drivers on our roadways is unacceptable," Johnson said.Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck called the percentage of DWI-related traffic deaths "disgusting," and Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon said she hoped the figures would "make the statement to our state that we need sobriety checkpoints."Texas does let courts require ignition interlocks for repeat DWI offenders and offenders with a blood-alcohol level at least twice the legal limit. The interlocks, which are paid for by the offender, require alcohol-free breath samples to start the vehicle and periodic intervals each trip.For several years, MADD has pushed the state to make ignition interlocks mandatory for all DWI offenders.The interlocks, some of which have facial or thumbprint recognition technology, are far more effective at keeping intoxicated people from driving then just suspending their driver's license, said Jeff Miracle, MADD's North Texas executive director."Over 75 percent of offenders who get their license suspended still drive," Miracle said. "This is taking away their opportunity to drive the vehicle."Miracle said 17 states already require ignition interlocks for all convicted drunken drivers. Among them, Oregon and Arizona have had more than a 50 percent decrease in DWI traffic fatalities since the laws took effect, he said.The National Transportation Safety Board recently expressed support for requiring interlocks in every state for convicted drunken drivers. The board is also is urging the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to hurry research to create systems that can determine a motorist's blood-alcohol level using infrared light when the ignition button is pressed.The board released a study analyzing data from more than 1,500 wrong-way crashes from 2004 to 2009 and said more than half involved drivers with blood-alcohol levels higher than twice the legal amount.Efficient method?Currently, 38 states, and the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands conduct checkpoints.States including Georgia, Kentucky and Arkansas conduct weekly checkpoints. Illinois and Pennsylvania conduct several hundred a year. And Nevada, Oklahoma and Tennessee conduct them once or twice a month."If checkpoints are held often over long enough periods and are well-publicized, motorists assume police are cracking down on impaired drivers, even if other enforcement hasn't been stepped up," said a report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a research group whose goals include reducing highway deaths and injuries. "This helps to dissuade people from driving after drinking."Even so, some people use various websites and cellphone apps such as www.mrcheckpoint.com to tell them where the checkpoints are.The American Civil Liberties Union says random checkpoints aren't the way to go in Texas."Randomly selecting drivers for screening rather than basing investigations on behavior is not just inefficient but also interferes with everyday Texans' right to be left alone," said Dotty Griffith, public education director for the ACLU of Texas. "Research on checkpoints identifies increased public awareness of the dangers of drunk driving as the primary value of sobriety checkpoints."However, public education can be achieved without tying up law enforcement on the side of the road screening large numbers of innocent drivers."Saving livesAs for Ford, no one knows whether a sobriety checkpoint would have saved her life.John Layton, the 46-year-old driver whose vehicle collided with Ford's, also died in the crash. He was an elementary school music teacher and a musician who sometimes played at Cowboys Dance Hall in Arlington. An attorney representing Ford's family said toxicology reports have shown that Layton's blood-alcohol level was 0.314.The legal level in Texas is 0.08.Rosenberg said she never saw her daughter's body because of the severity of the crash."It was awful. They said she didn't suffer," Rosenberg said. "I can't imagine what she went through."I would do anything for another family not to go through this."This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610Twitter: @annatinsleySusan Schrock, 817-709-7578Twitter: @susanschrock
Driving related bills
Here are some of the measures pre-filed for the 83rd legislative session that would affect motorists:
HB 24 - Creating a new job to increase focus on the problem of intoxicated driving. The post, executive commissioner for the prevention of driving while intoxicated, would be appointed by the governor, and the commissioner would have various responsibilities during each two-year term, including monitoring drunken-driving data collected in Texas and nationwide and working with other state officials to cut down on alcoholism and drunken driving.
HB 84 - Establishing a motorbus-only-lane pilot program in certain counties, including Tarrant, Bexar, El Paso and Travis counties.
HB 104 - Repealing the driver responsibility program, which was created so that those who regularly break road laws accumulate points per violation and pay extra fines to help Texas roads and trauma centers.
HB 63 - A statewide ban on texting while driving, preventing drivers from reading, writing or sending a text-based communication while driving unless a vehicle is stopped. The measure would not prevent a driver from dialing a number on a cellphone, using GPS on a cellphone or using voice-operated technology.
HB 232 - Allowing minors convicted of certain alcohol offenses to perform community service instead of going to an alcohol-awareness program.
SB 98 - Requiring ignition interlocks to be installed in vehicles of some people granted deferred adjudication to ensure that no one drives while drunk.
Source: Texas Legislature Online