The latest DWI deaths in Texas hit home on Saturday night when a Frisco family driving on I-35 south of Austin was crashed into by a Dodge pickup. Two beautiful sisters, Hayden Weissman, who was 18, and Peyton Weissman, who was 16, tragically lost their lives. Their father, his girlfriend, and another sister were also injured.
To make this horrific crash even more maddening, Macario M. Hernandez, 61, ran away from the scene. Fortunately he was apprehended and is in the Hays County jail with a bail set at $250,000. At least he’s not getting back on our highways any time soon. Still worse, if that is possible, Hernandez had been arrested for DWI a shocking three times in the past.
This is infuriating. How does this keep on happening? And how can we stop the never-ending pattern of this never-ending carnage on our highways?
DWI deaths in Texas and all over the U.S. are a national emergency
In case you don’t think this is some isolated incident and could never happen to you, here are some sobering DWI statistics from the only organization devoted to eliminating these 100% preventable crimes, Mothers Against Drunk Driving:
◊ 10,876 people died last year in a DWI collision in America;
◊ That is a scandalous 30 people a day, or one person every 48 minutes;
◊ And another 290,000 people were injured last year in a DWI crash;
◊ One out of every three deaths on our highways are caused by an intoxicated driver; and
◊ DWIs happen over 300,000 times each day, but only 2,800 people are arrested, less than 1%. Far less are convicted and the ones who are usually slapped on the wrist and given probation.
That is why we have to increase funding to our law enforcement officials and court system. We need more sobriety checkpoints, officers on the sides of roads at night, and ignition interlocks to keep convicted drunk drivers off the streets in the first place. We need more judges, prosecutors and jails. And we need more civil enforcement and lawsuits to hurt drunks financially so they know it is not their God-given right to drink and drive.
I realize that these ideas may sound harsh, but after practicing personal injury law in North Texas for almost 40 years, I know that the combination of increased criminal and civil penalties is our only option.
How can we keep repeat DWI offenders from driving?
Here’s another shocking statistic: one-third of DWIs are caused by repeat offenders.
You might think that being arrested and convicted for one driving while intoxicated charge would be enough to scare people into never making the same stupid mistake again, but it’s not.
The criminal punishments need to be increased by our state legislature currently meeting in Austin. These are the criminal penalties for just the first offense:
A. If the driver has less than a .15 blood alcohol content (BAC), almost two times the legal limit of .08: a fine up to $2,000 and/or jail sentence of three days to 180 days and driver’s license suspended for up to one year. Most people are simply put on probation however, and after two years can have the charge not disclosed if the offender installs an engine interlock device for six months.
B. If he (it’s almost always a man, usually young) has more than .15 BAC, the fine can be as high as $4,000 and jail sentence up to one year.
We must get the message out
Ironically, just two days before the crash, high school students including the young ladies had participated in the effective Shattered Dreams Program. Here’s the video posted on Facebook that showed the teenagers what happens when people drink while driving by using crashed vehicles, graphic depictions, EMTs, and even the Grim Reaper.
It should have been required viewing for criminals like Hernandez and all of the hundreds of thousands of other drunk drivers in Texas too.
Texas is the worst state in the U.S. for drunk driving cases by number. In 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that there were 1,438 deaths due to alcohol related crashes. That’s a lot more than California with 1,059 DWI deaths, but with 12 million more people. Why do they have so many fewer DWI fatalities? That’s easy, they have more serious criminal and civil penalties.
This is why I support Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and try to get state representatives to support tougher laws and you should too. Our roads are way too dangerous — even when drivers are sober.
MADD is working so that there are no more victims of drunk driving. These crimes have to stop. Now.