DWI Checkpoint Legislation Debated in West Texas

By: Sarah Snyder
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND - Drinking and driving. It's something Midland Police deal with every week. But a piece of legislation making it's way to Austin is aimed at cracking down and hard.

That law would allow authorities to stop every driver on the highway they're watching whether that driver broke a law or not. Midland Police tell NewsWest 9, about half of all their traffic fatalities are due to drunk driving. Because it's such a big problem locally and statewide, officials in the Tall City are getting behind this new bill hoping that a little extra roadside patrol will protect drivers.

"Some people it's not going to deter them at all," Lt. Brian Bogart with the Midland Police Department, said. "But if it saves one life, it's worth it. If 10-20% of people are worried about getting caught in a checkpoint that would have otherwise been driving, that's 10-20% fewer drunks on the road for us."

Right now, Midland Police hold "no refusal" weekends - where a judge comes out with them to watch for intoxicated drivers. If the driver refuses to take a breathalyzer, they'll issue a search warrant on the spot and make the arrest. But this new legislation would take that effort one step further.

"What it does is it sends a message," Lt. Bogart said. "If you start using checkpoints, that in and of itself, is a very big deterrent factor to the people who are out partying because you never know where that checkpoint may be set up at. You go around a curve and boom, you're there."

NewsWest 9 hit the streets to find out what folks in the Tall City have to say about the proposed legislation and most of the people we spoke with seem to be for it.

"Getting probable cause inside the city limits if they're not able to follow people around, so I don't mind being delayed a little bit, if it will save somebody's life," Caleb Unseth, who supports the legislation, said.

"I work in a hospital on the surgical floor and we see it all the time: people who get hurt by drunk drivers and this is a great way to stop it before it happens," Armando Rivera, who supports the legislation, said.

Several folks were against officers pulling over drivers without probable cause but they weren't willing to speak on camera. NewsWest 9 also asked our Facebook fans to weigh in on the topic and overwhelmingly almost everyone there seemed to give the bill a thumbs up.

"It's something that's been a long time coming and I hope it passes the legislature because it would definitely be a good tool for us," Lt. Bogart said. "You're not going to see a checkpoint out there every day. But if we spread them out and coordinate it and made them where they're highly visible, I think it would have a very good impact on our drunk driving here locally."

This isn't the first time DWI checkpoints came to a vote. The checkpoints have been banned since 1994 and similar legislation failed in earlier sessions. The proposed legislation will once again make it's way to Austin in January when lawmakers reconvene.