Austin police Chief Art Acevedo and Texas state representative Jason Villalba joined AAA Texas, community members and leaders Friday in honoring local lives lost to drinking and driving.
A press conference was followed by a silent march around a cloud-covered Texas Capitol for the city's third annual March for Change. Last year, Texas drivers experienced more than 24,000 alcohol related crashes that resulted in over 1,000 deaths, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
Members of the public also turned out in support of Villalba's House Bill 2246.
The bill could reduce repeat drunk driving offences by allowing all convicted drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock breathalyzer instead of having their license suspended for up to one year. The device prevents the engine from being started if the resultant breath-alcohol concentration analyzed is greater than the programmed blood alcohol concentration.
According to a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ignition interlocks are effective in reducing repeat drunk driving offences by 67 percent.
Nancy Pratt is a Central Texas mother who lost her daughter Brianne in a DWI crash in 2013. The driver responsible had two DWI priors. Pratt believes that if Villalba's bill had been enacted during the time of the incident, things might have turned out differently.
"If this bill, 2246, had been in effect when he had gotten his first [DWI] or even his second, he would've not been on that road. He would not have been able to start that truck. And he would have not driven straight into my daughter," Pratt said.
Acevedo says there have been 27 drunk driving fatalities in Austin so far this year—up from 18 at the same time last year. He said current policy that has offenders blow into the interlock device upon conviction does not serve justice timely enough.
"So for the next session, my challenge to this legislature, to these leaders who are supposed to be here to protect innocent Texans, is that when we have somebody that has been arrested for DWI, and we have the evidence, that we don’t wait until conviction but that we treat them like we do other violent criminals and make them wear what is in effect an ankle monitor, which means that interlock device," Acevedo said.
Texas has a zero tolerance law for those under 21 who are caught buying, selling or consuming alcohol. Gloria Souhami, director of Travis County's Underage Drinking and Prevention program, said the city must continue to educate the public on the very real dangers of driving while intoxicated.
"No one should get behind the wheel after drinking," Souhami said. "We must continue to get that message out to everyone—especially the teens in our community who are starting to drive."
AAA Texas spokesman Doug Shupe said alcohol-impaired drivers contribute to roughly one out of every three traffic deaths nationwide.