More sheriff’s office deputies will be on Galveston County highways this weekend on the lookout for drunken drivers, Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said Thursday.
And indications are that officers might be busy because the rate of charges for drunken driving has 2020 on track to be a record year, officials said.
The sheriff’s office is participating in a statewide program with the Texas Department of Transportation to crack down on drunken driving this year.
The office received funding through the state to increase the number of deputies working highway details across Galveston County, including on Bolivar Peninsula, Trochesset said.
The added enforcement actually began last weekend and will continue through Monday, he said.
Trochesset expected more people to be on the roads this weekend, he said. Labor Day is traditionally less busy than other summer holidays, such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, because fewer people travel long distances after schools have started classes.
During last year’s Labor Day holiday weekend in Texas, there were 382 crashes involving drivers under the influence of alcohol, according to the transportation department. The crashes killed 12 people and seriously injured another 55.
Officials had little reason to believe the COVID-19 pandemic would cause any significant decreases in the number of people drinking and driving this weekend, they said. Although arrests for other types of crimes have decreased, the number of drunken-driving charges being filed in Galveston County courts this year is on pace to surpass previous years.
State orders have closed bars in Texas for months to reduce the spread of coronavirus, but it appears people are still drinking in other places and then hitting the road, said Sheriff’s Office Capt. Ray Nolen, who is managing the enforcement program.
“It was probably offset by the number of people that were not able to work,” Nolen said. “Even though they couldn’t drink at bars, they were still drinking at home or in backyards and then still making the decision to drive.”
Through Tuesday, 1,165 people had been charged with driving-while-intoxicated offenses in Galveston County, according to the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office. In all of 2018, 1,223 people were charged with driving-while-intoxicated-related offenses.
In 2019, there were 1,687 driving-while-intoxicated charges filed in Galveston County. At the current rate of charges being filed, the county is on pace to surpass that total by the end of 2020.
Trochesset speculated that part of the reason for the increase in charges was that more of his deputies were trained to investigate and make arrests for drunken driving.
Trochesset urged people who plan to drink this weekend to have a plan for traveling safely either by having a designated driver or using taxi or ride-hailing services.