Life Sentence for a DWI in Texas – An Extreme Case

Recently a Texas court has upheld the most severe DWI sentence imaginable: life imprisonment.

If there were a poster child for DWI punishments, it would be the offender, Rose Ann Davidson. Her sentence resulted from the “three strikes” law, which prescribes life imprisonment for a third felony conviction. Davidson had three DWI convictions since 2008, two others in 2002, and one in 1996. She has served at least 8 years in prison for impaired driving.

Davidson’s lawyer appealed the conviction, calling the sentence “grossly disproportionate, and … thus cruel and unusual.”rose-ann-davidson-mug-shot

But the Texas Third Court of Appeals didn’t agree. The purpose of the recidivist statute, said the judges, is both to “deter repeat offenders” and “to segregate that person from the rest of society for an extended period of time.” The segregation is based on “propensities [the offender] has demonstrated over a period of time…” In other words, Three Strikes laws remove from society habitual offenders who don’t modify their behavior as a result of incarceration.

Opinions on news sites run the gamut, from throw-away-the-key to it’s-a-waste-to-imprison-nonviolent-offenders.

It’s a fact that Davidson endangered her fellow citizens, though she had not harmed them. And it looks as if she would continue to do so if not imprisoned.

But some see the sentence as an example of politicians wishing to appear tough on drunk driving. For example, Lawrence Taylor, a DUI lawyer, does not believe that a sentence normally imposed on murderers is appropriate:

“Habitual offender”.  Translation: suffering from alcoholism.

So, was the Texas Third Court of Appeals fair? Was life in prison the only way to keep Davidson from drinking and driving again, or was it a showier alternative to prescribing the addiction treatment that she really needs?

In discussing what should be done, “license revocation” should be off the table. Davidson didn’t have a license since 2010, and the restriction did nothing to keep her from behind the wheel.

Life sentence for DWI? Ten years followed by lifetime ignition interlock? A full-on treatment program?

What do you think?

Get Home Safely This Weekend

We hope you’re enjoying your Labor Day weekend. Remember to drive carefully on your journey home. You have many more holidays ahead of you.

LifeSafer says have a happy holiday weekend

Driving This Labor Day Weekend?
Here Are 30 Million Reasons to Be Careful

If you’re driving this Labor Day weekend, we have news for you: you’ll have more company than ever. There will be almost 30 million people on the road travelling 50 miles or more. That’s the most travelers since 2008.

trafficjamWhy so many people? A recovering economy is one reason. Consumer spending and confidence are up, and when they have more money in their pockets, Americans tend to drive more. Comparatively low gas prices — the lowest since 2010 — also contribute to the rush of car travel.

Now for the bad news. People mean traffic, and traffic means danger. If this year is anything like last year, some 400 people will die on the roads this weekend. Tens of thousands will be injured. Numbers like that are the reason that Labor Day weekend is one of the most dangerous times to drive.

So, if you are one of the 30 million who are off on a car vacation this weekend, be wary out there. Increased congestion, including many more drivers driving on unfamiliar roads, means there is more to watch out for. Please follow a few common sense driving practices:

  • Don’t drink. Police will be out in force, participating in drunk driving crackdowns all over the country.
  • Don’t speed.
  • Don’t text, talk on the phone, or otherwise let yourself be distracted from the task of driving.

Family in convertible car smilingAt LifeSafer we’ve got just one thing on our agenda: keeping the roads safe. So we’ll be thinking about you. No matter what you’ve planned for this Labor Day, if it involves wheels, please drive carefully at all times.

Have a wonderful weekend. See you back at work.

Labor Day Traveling Tips

Labor Day Traveling TipsThe temperatures are soaring, the roads are packed, and there are cars everywhere close to overheating – yes, it’s Labor Day again. With so many travelers on the road trying to squeeze out the last drops of summer, you’ll definitely need some Labor Day Traveling Tips.

Before you even get on the road, be sure to plan ahead by downloading any navigational maps or destination information you may need. Think about where you’ll be stopping on the way, and try to research road conditions long before you actually leave the driveway. This way, if there is construction, detours, or somewhere you’ll want to see along the way, you’ll know in advance.

Think about vehicle safety before you head out onto the road. Check your tire pressure and overall vehicle maintenance. Get your oil changed and have your fluids checked to prevent overheating in soaring temperatures. When you stop on your trip, be sure to always lock your doors and only leave your vehicle in well-lit areas.

Because there will be so many people on the highway with you, be sure to watch for road rage. Always stay clear of drivers who appear impatient, and if you suspect someone of drinking and driving, pull over somewhere safe and contact your local Police.

Labor Day is a great time to kick back and relax, and you’ll get to your destination safely if you drive defensively and prepare ahead of time.

Your Hump-Day Recess: German
Ignition Interlock Spoof from 1960

This is rather hard to believe, but apparently some fun people in Germany filmed a fake newsreel feature about a gadget that would detect alcohol on the breath and prevent one from driving.

If we are to believe the company that posted the item, it dates from 1960, and it amounts to an early version of an ignition interlock. Called the “Alkoholomat,” this sci-fi device has functions that go beyond anything available in the market today. Instead of just preventing the intoxicated man from driving, it… well, see for yourself.

The announcer began by citing the device as from the “Department of Inventions Somebody Ought to Invent.”  We’re on it.

Your Hump Day Recess: Every Wednesday LifeSafer brings you something a little different, related to the worlds of road safety, to ease your progress over Hump Day and through the week.

Previous Hump Days: car safety, animals, posters. traffic jams, more posters and fake microbrews.

Restaurant Lobby Opposes
All-Offender Ignition Interlock Law

The restaurant lobby has taken a stand against a genuine public menace: lost liquor profits. In a recent letter to the Delaware News Journal, the American Beverage Institute objected to Delaware’s new law which mandates that ignition interlocks be installed in the vehicles of first-time DUI offenders.

Delaware mandates an Ignition interlock for every DUI offender Ignition Interlocks are devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above a designated limit. About half of US states require ignition interlocks to be installed after a first DUI conviction.

The Institute, which does not publish the names of its members on its website, has fought sobriety checkpoints, liquor taxes, lowering blood alcohol limits, liquor advertising bans, and other efforts to reduce the damage that alcohol does on and off the roads. The organization and its members clearly consider Delaware’s new ignition interlock law a step in the wrong direction.

Why is that? To be convicted of a DUI, drivers generally need to have a blood alcohol level of .08 or more. Why would the American Beverage Institute defend people who have clearly broken the law?

The answer is, the law considers someone driving with a BAC of .08 dangerous; the ABI doesn’t. Their hobby horse is the high-BAC offender: 70% of fatalities from drunk driving crashes, they are fond of telling us, happen with drivers whose BAC level is .15 or more. They want legislators to leave the interlocks to these people and lighten up those who have just had three or four beers before driving.

What the ABI doesn’t like to publicize is that drivers with a BAC of between .08 and .14 still die on the road at the rate of about 3000 each year.  Their families, and those of their victims, don’t consider the lives lost any less important because they’re part of a smaller statistic.

The ABI claims they are dedicated to preserving “the on-premise dining experience.” More likely, it’s the experience of ordering that second or third drink that they’re trying to preserve, since alcoholic beverages have the highest gross profit margins. Restaurants and bars don’t make money when diners, worrying about their BAC level, switch to water.

More and more states are passing first-offender ignition interlock laws, because they see that they work. A federal law has been proposed as well. Naturally the ABI has weighed in against it. But it’s the American people who must decide which numbers matter: liquor sales or road deaths.

Want to Avoid Driving Drunk?
In New York, There’s an App For That

New York has always been serious about fighting drunk driving. From all-offender ignition interlock laws to stricter DWI penalties, the state is well known for leading the way in the fight to keep streets and roads safer.

StopDWI1Washington County has added a smart preventive measure to its arsenal. Have a Plan is a new phone app that gives New York drivers everything they need to get home safely after a night on the town. The app lets you summon a cab service or easily select a ride from your pre-saved list of safe ride options (friends who love you and who will pick you up).

The most entertaining part of the app is the “Test Your Skills” section, offering games to test your coordination after a drink or two.

Balance the drinks - if you can. If not, call a taxi.

Stack up the drinks – if you can. If not, call a taxi.

The games are not authorized sobriety tests, but maneuvering moving beer glasses under a tap or stacking cocktail glasses in Tetris-like fashion is a fun way to learn that your motor coordination is not what it should be.

Finally, the drunk driving phone app helps your smartphones do what it was designed to do — settle arguments by giving users access to the facts right when they’re needed. You can click a button and find out what New York’s DWI laws are, or what blood alcohol levels really mean. In short, the app makes it even easier to do the right thing – not drink and drive.

The app was developed by Stop DWI, a program that has been helping get drunk drivers off New York roads since 1981, along with Staples Marketing. it is available for Android, windows, and iPhone. The next time you’re out on the town — provided the town is in New York State — fire it up and get home safely.

Do Texting Bans Actually Save Lives?

Anyone who has raised a teenager knows that talking to them can be a one-sided proposition: teens are not disposed to listen to grownups.

texting bans save lives

Teens don”t listen to parents, but they might obey texting bans.

Yet there is one message that really does need to get through: Do Not Text While Driving. Recognizing that parental and even peer pressure isn’t enough, many states have enacted laws that forbid texting and other forms of distracted driving.

But do the bans do any good at all? Have they saved any lives? Or do people – particularly young people – just ignore the laws and text away?

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health have studied how anti-texting-while-driving laws affect road deaths. The results, as published in the American Journal of Public Health, are encouraging.

First, we must point out that different states have different laws: some states ban all phone use, others just handheld cell phone use, and others just texting. Moreover, some states only prohibit young drivers from texting.

That said, the study showed that texting bans reduced deaths by about 3 percent – about 19 deaths – in states that imposed them.

The most successful laws? Ones that specifically banned people aged 15 to 21 from texting: they reduced traffic fatalities by 11 percent.  Older drivers, for some reason, did not see the same reduction, though all age groups benefited to some degree from the ban.Dangers of Texting and Driving

Enforcement mattered too. States in which police could only cite drivers for texting if they stopped them for another reason first – say, a malfunctioning taillight – did not see any reductions in deaths. The fatalities went down when police were able to stop drivers specifically for texting while driving.

Studies like this aren’t just for our information. They provide legislators with the insight they need to do their job. Now that we know that texting bans prevent deaths, it’s up to our country’s lawmakers to step up and ban teens from texting while driving nationwide.

The 5 Clues Police Used to Catch
244 Drunk Drivers at Sturgis

The annual Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota has finished. Along with the Auto Cross competitions, social events, rodeos, drag races, and concerts, there was another ritual occurrence: the annual rounding up of drunk motorcycle drivers.row of motorcycles This year the South Dakota Highway Patrol claims to have made a total of 244 DUI arrests during the event.

244 is not an unusually high number for Sturgis; in fact, arrests are down from last year, when more than 250 people were hauled in on drunk driving charges during the summer rally.

Police were able to find so many impaired motorcyclists because, over the years, they have learned what to look for. The physical nature of motorcycle riding provides clues that an experienced officer can use to detect a biker who is off his or her game. These are the five signs that alert the Highway Patrol that a biker shouldn’t be on the road:

  1. Drifting on a turn. Impaired motorcyclists don’t negotiate curves well. Police watch for motorcycles that drift too far out, or into another lane.
  2. Trouble with dismount. There’s a lot to dismounting: choosing the right place, deploying the kickstand, and swinging one’s foot over the motorcycle to stand. Officers look for any signs of difficulty, which might mean that the driver has been drinking.
  3. Trouble with balance at stop. Riders who are under the influence have trouble balancing at stops sometimes. They might shift their weight from foot to foot. If they do, it’s a very good sign that something is wrong.
  4. Turning problems. A turn on a motorcycle requires coordination. Unsteadiness (wobbling), late braking (the driver misjudged his or her speed), the wrong lean angle (the rider tries to sit upright when he or she should be leaning into a turn, because of fear of falling), or erratic movements during a turn (a sudden correction, for example) are very strong indicators that a biker is impaired.
  5. Inattentiveness to surroundings.  If a motorcyclist doesn’t seem to be scanning the road regularly, or fails to notice that a light has turned green, it’s time to pull the rider over and check things out.

Every year at Sturgis the police post ample warnings not to drink and drive — signs were to be found all over Sturgis during the rally — and every year a large number of bikers ignore the warnings. Perhaps the penalties are not stiff enough: drivers convicted of DUI in South Dakota must participate in a 24/7 alcohol program, but neither ignition interlocks nor other penalties are mandatory for a first offense.

Though we don’t know their individual fates, we can hope that this summer these 244 bikers have learned that, on two wheels or four, drinking and driving do not mix.


Your Hump-Day Recess: Fake Michigan Microbrews Discourage Drunk Driving

FakeBrew1When you pop into your favorite Michigan pub these days, you might find a beer or two on the menu that isn’t real. The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, together with various law enforcement agencies, has unveiled a campaign to discourage drunk driving with a bit of humor.

Bar and restaurant patrons will be seeing table-top placards for microbrews like “Designated Driver Dark” and “Call a Cab Cider.” The beers (sadly) don’t exist, but the messages are designed to drive home the point: don’t drink and drive.

The campaign was announced not at the Governor’s office but in a Grand Rapids bar. Over the next few weeks the placards are expected to be displayed in the more than 1,200 restaurants and bars that are members of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association. Anti Drunk Driving Campaign from MichiganThe campaign was conceived as a kind of conversation-starter to get people talking about the issue and maybe drink more responsibly as a result. The “beers” will be advertised on billboards and television as well.

View the whole menu here. And have one on us.

Your Hump Day Recess: Every Wednesday LifeSafer brings you something a little different, related to the worlds of road safety, to ease your progress over Hump Day and through the week.

Previous Hump Days: car safety, animals, posters. traffic jams, and more posters.