Houston's Harris County has the highest rate of drunk-driving fatalities among populous counties in the U.S., and issues about 10,000 drunk-driving citations annually, in what District Attorney Pat Lykos termed a “pandemic plague” of alcohol-related problems on local roads.
The Houston Chronicle reported June 10 that urban sprawl combined with a lack of public transportation, and tough enforcement of drunk-driving laws have affected the prevalence and reporting, respectively, of drunk driving in Houston. Residents also seem reluctant to use designated drivers or take a taxi home after a night of drinking, officials say.
About 60 percent of traffic fatalities on Houston roads are alcohol-related, twice the national average, although some local officials question the accuracy of the statistics.
“The reality today is, if you're drinking and driving and are stopped by police, you're going to jail whether you're intoxicated or not. That's the default,” said Houston attorney Troy McKinney, who defends clients charged with DUI. “The attitude making its way to the government is: People shouldn't be drinking and driving at all, but it's not against the law.”
Recent drunk-driving victims have including a housewife forced off a highway overpass, an immigrant from Pakistan killed when he stopped to help a fellow driver on a freeway, and a volunteer firefighter who lost his legs after being hit by a drunk driver in a store parking lot.
To address the problem, Lykos wants to divert first-time DUI offenders to assessment, treatment and supervised probation rather than prison.