Tuesday, January 25, 2022 Jan 25, 2022
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DWI UPDATE: WILL NEW LAWS CONVINCE STUBBORN JUDGES?

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Although Dallas’ crackdown on drunk drivers has continued to be a hot social and legislative issue, just as it was when D took an in-depth look at the problem in July 1984, this year’s statistics from the Dallas Police Department still don’t indicate a decrease in the number of DWI arrests or in the number of alcohol-related fatalities.

But Lt. Billy R. Grammer, a member of the 12-man DWI squad at the police department, says the statistics have stabilized in comparison with last year.

“If the trend [of consistently increasing fatalities from 1979-82] had continued, we would have averaged about 400 fatalities” caused by drunk drivers in 1984, he says. Instead, the city recorded only 202 such deaths.

The lieutenant compared statistics for the first six months in 1984 to those from the first six months of this year. This time last year there were 81 fatal accidents associated with alcohol; by June 1, 1985, there were 84. Grammer sees this as progress.

“We are ahead of last year’s figures, considering that 70 cars a day are added to Dallas’ traffic. If we keep the number of arrests in proportion with the population, we’re staying the same.”

He attributed the stability to public awareness and recent legislation concerning drunk driving. Milo Kirk, president of the Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) Dallas chapter, agrees. She says she thinks the recent law raising the drinking age from 19 to 21 is a “big step in the right direction,” but has one reservation: It doesn’t go into effect until Sept. 1,1986.

“They’re waiting too long to put it into effect,” Kirk says. “And if the federal government hadn’t threatened to restrict highway funds, we’d have had a hard time getting it done. I think Texas should have had enough pride to pass the law on its own.”

Kirk concedes that the January 1984 law that hiked DWI fines has definitely been a deterrent. That law set the minimum fine for a DWI conviction at $100 and the maximum at $2,000. If there is bodily injury, Kirk added, the fine runs anywhere from $600 to $2,500, plus a mandatory 30 days in jail.

Kirk says a lack of cooperation by some local judges is still a problem. “Many of them don’t believe a DWI is a serious criminal offense,” she says. “County Criminal Court Judge Robert Moss recently testified in County Criminal Court Judge John Orvis’ court on behalf of Dallas District Attorney Michael Bloom, who had been charged for driving while intoxicated . He said that a DWI is not a serious crime, but a social problem. He said it wasn’t even in the penal code. The jury was appalled. It sentenced Bloom to a $2,000 fine and 72 hours in jail. Then Judge Orvis probated both the fine and the jail sentence. This is ludicrous.”

Such leniency is common for first-time offenders in certain courts, Kirk says. “What these judges will do,” she continues, “is pass the case for a year so defendants will have time to come up with the money to pay their attorneys and the fine.” Kirk says that in spite of the current trend toward stricter DWI laws, these judges “haven’t changed a bit.”

Kirk says she has mixed feelings about two legislative proposals. Gov. Mark White signed a bill in June requiring drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seat belts, with violators paying a $25 to $50 fine. The bill becomes law in September. The other, a more controversial open-container law, would make penalties harsher for intoxicated drivers caught with an open liquor container.

Kirk is in favor of the mandatory seat-belt law. But she doesn’t think the open-container proposal will accomplish much: “You could still drink and drive, as long as you didn’t show 0.1 alcohol content (on the Intox-ilyzer test). You could drink as long as you didn’t register high enough to get a DWI.”