If someone showed up with a proven program guaranteed to reduce fatal crashes caused by drunk drivers, wouldn’t we seize the opportunity to put it to work?
Apparently not if it depended on the Texas Legislature to make it possible.
When I mentioned to a friend that I was going to write about the merits of Texas giving cities the long-sought authority to use sobriety checkpoints to save lives, he suggested I not waste my time.
Time wasted? Really? Take a look at some numbers.
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Leading the nation by far, drunk driving deaths in Texas in 2013 totaled an alarming 1,337 persons. The next-largest number of fatalities caused by drunks was in California, with 867 lives lost.
The “but Texas is so big argument” doesn’t hold. There are about 12 million more people in California than in Texas.
My friend didn’t change his cynical advice even when I pointed out that 38 other states, including the four that surround Texas, have DWI checkpoints and annually have about 10 percent fewer alcohol-related traffic fatalities.
I guess saving the lives of maybe 130 men, women and children every year doesn’t matter.
The exchange with my friend came when I described a couple of conversations I recently had with Arlington’s highly respected police chief, Will Johnson — one of the state’s leading law enforcement voices trying to be heard over the din of objections coming from legislators on both the left and right.
Concerns among liberals involve, among other things, suspicions of racial profiling in the conduct of checkpoints. Does it occur to them they could write the law to prohibit any such practice?
Or that the operation of checkpoints could be designed in one of at least two ways to ensure no one would be inconvenienced on account of their race.
Either look at every driver coming through the checkpoint or pick drivers through a structured random system based on a mathematical formula. Neither method has anything to do with sex, race, hair color or any other perceived prejudice of police officers.
Moving to the far right of the political spectrum, opposition is based on interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and concerns about due process and lack of probable cause to detain free citizens and invade their privacy.
Never mind that the U.S. Supreme Court almost 25 years ago decided the constitutionality of the practice, some lawmakers insist on their own version of the Fourth Amendment, so checkpoints remain unauthorized in Texas.
Even though cities across the state include on their legislative agendas year after year their desire for permission to use sobriety checkpoints for the safety and protection of their residents, such initiatives proceed down a dead-end road.
Chief Johnson’s latest appeal includes a common-sense approach to legislation that would terminate the use of checkpoints upon the occurrence of any of the perceived problems with how they were conducted.
The idea of “sunset” provisions in lawmaking is not new. Why not use this tool to settle concerns about how it would work out in Texas?
Too late this session because the bill filing deadline has passed? A quick check of what’s already in the hopper includes a great many potential laws dealing with various kinds of checkpoints and assorted issues of managing alcohol- and drug-impaired people.
Skilled legislators know how to move this cause forward. They just need to find enough support among their colleagues for it to succeed.
No matter the obstacles, the chief says he won’t give up trying, because saving lives is his business and he’s passionate about it.
It’s one of those times when the greater cause of public safety outweighs concerns of invading drivers’ privacy.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. firstname.lastname@example.org