Drunken drivers this New Year’s Eve will have to contend with an increased law enforcement presence across Galveston County and a new program designed to help prosecute DWI-related crimes, officials said.
“We can’t sit outside every bar and check on everyone who comes out, but our goal is to protect everyone,” Galveston Police Department spokesman Capt. Joshua Schirard said. “The best way to do that is to get drunken drivers off the road. We will have a few extra officers out there with the primary mission of enforcing DWIs.”
New Year’s Eve is a particularly active time for area law enforcement as studies show people are two or three times more likely to die in alcohol-related crashes over Christmas and New Year’s than any other time, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Galveston County has seen an average of 11 DWI-related arrests on New Year’s Eve each of the past three years, District Attorney Jack Roady said.
“That’s much higher than normal,” he said.
The increase is not limited to Galveston County alone.
During the 2015-16 Christmas season — Dec. 1 to Jan. 1 — there were 2,374 alcohol-related traffic crashes in Texas, resulting in 102 fatalities and 205 serious injuries, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
“People celebrating don’t always make the right decision,” Galveston County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Maj. Douglas Hudson said. “That’s why we increase patrols for that specific reason. We try to keep them off the streets, prevent accidents and preserve lives.”
Police arrest more drunken drivers over New Year’s Eve, but some of that might be because there are more patrols available, Schirard said.
Law enforcement agencies in the county also are aided by a program called Safety Through Rapid Investigation of Key Evidence, or STRIKE, which enables police to process DWI claims more efficiently, Roady said.
“Effectively, it’s a no refusal weekend all the time,” Roady said.
When someone refuses a breathalyzer test, police officers using the STRIKE program telecommunicate with a judge via internet at the crime scene or traffic stop and submit sworn affidavits to obtain an intoxicated driver’s blood sample, Roady said.
Officers then take the suspect to a medical facility where a blood sample can be obtained, Roady said.
A judge and an assistant district attorney are on call at all times and the program speeds up a process that once took several hours, Roady said.
“Anyone who chooses to drink and drive should realize that they could be one drink away from committing intoxication manslaughter,” Roady said. “It might not just be a DWI, but you could very well take someone’s life.”