“Texas leads the nation in drunken driving fatalities,” said TxDOT public information officer Larry Krantz. “And that not only reflects the drunken drivers themselves, but those they injure or kill because of their negligence.”
TxDOT and the Texas Department of Public Safety say drivers who rationalize with excuses like “I can hold my liquor,” or “I’m fine to drive,” or “I’ll take the back roads home” face an expensive fine, losing their license, and jail time if they are convicted of driving while intoxicated.
Thousands of state troopers, police officers, and sheriffs’ deputies across the state will be out in force. The public awareness campaign which began Aug. 19 and runs through Labor Day.
Convicted first-time DWI offenders can pay a fine of up to $2,000, lose their driver’s license for up to a year and serve as much as 180 days in jail.
Safety officials say other costs associated with an impaired driving arrest and conviction can add up to as much as $17,000 or more for bail, legal fees, court appearances, court-ordered classes, vehicle insurance increases, and other expenses.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving. Director Steven McCraw said, “If you are driving and found to be impaired, you will be arrested.”
In 2010, there were 25,032 alcohol-related crashes in Texas that resulted in 1,057 deaths and 16,877 injuries. In 2010, 24 percent of people killed in alcohol-related crashes in Texas were between the ages of 20 and 25, though that age group represents only 9 percent of the overall state population. More alcohol-related crashes occur between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. than any other hour of the day. Also, more alcohol- related crashed occur on Saturday than any other day.
Safety advocates are urging drivers to consider alternatives to getting behind the wheel if they’ve been drinking. They suggest calling a cab, asking a friend or a family member for a ride, handing keys to a designated driver, or simply stay put until the driver sobers up.
TxDOT’s digital RideFinder at www.TexasDWI.org, accessible from smart phones, lists ride options in local areas throughout Texas.
To further alert motorists about the DWI crackdown, TxDOT is conducting a multi-media public awareness campaign that includes television spots, radio ads, billboards, web and mobile phone ads, and safe driving reminders in metropolitan bar and restaurant districts.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving are joining TxDOT and local law enforcement as partners for the “Drink. Drive. Go to Jail” campaign.
The decision will benefit veterans who are either disabled or recipients of the Purple Heart and/or Congressional Medal of Honor.
In central Texas, those toll roads where some veterans will be able to drive free include Loop 1, SH 45 North, SH 45 Southeast and SH 130 (Segments 1-4) in the Austin area. Additionally, qualified veterans will be able to travel on the Camino Colombia, which is SH 255 near Laredo and Loop 49 in Tyler.
House Bill 3139, passed by the Legislature in 2009 and enacted in the Transportation Code (Section 372.053), stated that the state’s toll authorities may develop a discount program for various veterans.
Gov. Rick Perry recently called on the Transportation Commission to begin implementing a program that would help support Texas veterans getting around Texas with less financial burden.
“Our veterans are motivated by a higher calling that is rooted in the fundamental values of our nation,” Gov. Perry said. “In Texas, we understand and appreciate the sacrifices the men and women of our armed forces make in defense of our freedom, and we consider it an honor to support them.”
Currently, there are 7,360 specialty license plates indicating drivers are disabled vets, Purple Heart and Congressional Medal of Honor recipients in Travis, Williamson and Hays counties closest to the central Texas toll roads. Statewide there are 160,666 similar specialty plates.
“We are able to celebrate our freedom each and every day due to the unwavering sacrifice of our military’s brave men and women, so making it a bit easier for them to move through our great state is the least we can do,” said Phil Wilson, executive director of TxDOT. “We thank Texas veterans for their service and hope the free use of our toll roads recognizes the price they paid for our freedom.”
The latest estimates show the cost of managing this program to be less than $1 million annually. The Transportation Commission has asked TxDOT to implement this program for qualified veterans by Jan. 1, 2013.
All Texas Department of Transportation offices will be closed Monday in observance of Labor Day. All offices will reopen Tuesday for normal hours of operations.
The Texas Department of Transportation’s Tyler District announced today it had let three projects totaling $16 million in August and has plans to let an additional $43 project in September.
The project scheduled to let in September calls for expanding US 79 in Anderson County to four lanes between Palestine and the Trinity River. Crews will be building the new lanes adjacent to the existing lanes, then swapping traffic to rebuild the existing lanes.
“Most of this project should be pretty pain-free,” said TxDOT spokesman Larry Krantz. “But it will have its moments, particularly as we make room for and build the new lanes closer to Palestine’s Westwood High School and the industrial district on the south end of town. In the end, though, this project is sorely needed and we’re excited about being able to finally get off the starting line.”
The project is scheduled to take approximately four years to complete.
In Wood County, construction contractor Longview Bridge and Road, Ltd., of Longview, was awarded a $2.8 million contract to replace the Texas Highway 154 bridge just west of Quitman with a larger structure.
This project is in conjunction with a second project which calls for adding 10-foot shoulders to TX 154 between TX 37 in Quitman and the Lake Fork Reservoir Bridge just north of Farm-to-Market Road 288. The second project, which has an estimated cost of $6.5 million, is scheduled to let in October, with work beginning during the winter.
“Planning for the bridge replacement was tricky since we had to keep one lane open in each direction,” Krantz said. “The lanes will be pretty narrow, and it may cause some traffic backups, but it will be open with the exception of some daytime lane closures. Once it’s all finished, the bridge will have shoulders that match the width of the shoulders being added in the second project.”
Also in Wood County, Texas Department of Transportation maintenance crews this week are scheduled to perform base and pavement repairs in various on US 69 in Alba and on Loop 564 at Cap Ranch Road in Mineola.
Daytime lane closures will be in effect in each location while the work is in progress, and flaggers will control traffic in two-lane areas.
In Van Zandt County, contractor A.L. Helmcamp was awarded a $6.7 million contract to begin the second project to add passing lanes on SH 64 between Tyler and Canton, this one running from FM 314 at the west end of the current project, and ending at FM 858 in Ben Wheeler. Preliminary work on this project is scheduled to begin over the winter.
In Henderson County, contractor APAC-Texas, Inc., was awarded a $6.3 million contract to add passing lanes on SH 19 between Athens and the Anderson County Line. Preliminary work will begin over the winter.
Texas Department of Transportation maintenance crews this week are scheduled to perform base and pavement repair operations on FM 1615 southeast of Athens.
Daytime lane closures will be in effect while the work is in progress, and flaggers will control traffic.