A campaign to create a new category of driving while intoxicated is being promoted in Texas as one way to curb growing problems in the system of punishing drunken drivers, says the Austin American-Statesman. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said the idea behind a new offense of “driving while ability impaired” – DWAI – would cover drivers whose blood-alcohol content is between 0.05 and 0.07. That would be less than the 0.08 level required before police can charge a motorist with drunken driving.
“The new offense would give prosecutors and judges and juries another tool to use” in thwarting impaired drivers across the state, Acevedo said. DWI arrests in Austin have dropped from 6,963 in 2008 to 6,166 in 2009 amid ramped-up enforcement efforts. They include a no-refusal program to require blood or breath tests periodically from all DWI suspects, added DWI enforcement funded through a Texas Department of Transportation grant, and a mobile breath-testing unit to expedite testing and jail booking. Austin police officials acknowledge, though, that drunken driving remains a problem in Austin, a sentiment echoed by police chiefs across the state. While enforcement is generally up over just a few years ago, police and prosecutors have increasingly complained that Texas' system of punishing drunken drivers is overloaded – perhaps even broken. The reason is that thousands of drivers arrested for DWI are being allowed to plead guilty to lesser crimes such as reckless driving or obstructing a roadway.