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States Target Buzzed Drivers with New Law

Recently, Austin, TX police chief, Art Acevedo announced his intention to pursue a new law targeting “buzzed” driving. As a result, Texas lawmakers will introduce this legislation for consideration as soon as January 2011. Current Texas law considers operating a vehicle with a .08 or higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to be Driving While Under the Influence (DWI). Depending on a driver’s record, a DWI may be prosecuted as anything from a misdemeanor for first offense to a felony for multiple offenses. Punishments range from a fine, community service, suspended license, to jail time. The proposed legislation, however, would further target potentially impaired drivers by creating a new category called “Driving While Ability Impaired” (DWAI). Under this proposal, anyone operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol of .05-.07 could be convicted under a DWAI. Punishment levels for this conviction are pending a formal construction of the proposed law.

All states have laws against drunk driving, though they designate varying levels of blood alcohol concentration as DWI. Generally, however, a driver is considered to be under the influence when his or her BAC reaches levels at or above .08-1.0. Most states do not yet have laws addressing what is termed “buzzed” driving – driving while moderately impaired by alcohol. If the proposed DWAI law passed in Texas, however, it would not be the first state to do so. Colorado and New York State have already added this law to their books. As more states adopt the DWAI law, other states are likely to take notice. If these first adopters show positive progress, it is likely that the DWAI designation will emerge in other states.

Opponents to DWAI laws are concerned with it unfairly targeting responsible adults who drink even the slightest amount of alcohol. For instance, a 135-lb woman could be convicted of a DWAI after drinking just two beers during an hour-long dinner. Other concerns involve how an officer could perform an accurate field test of a DWAI, as a person over the DWAI limit is often not likely to actually show impairment. Also, the question arises as to what behavior would compel an officer to detain and perform a sobriety test on a person who shows no physical impairment, as well as the possible resulting infringement on civil liberties. Such a law would also drastically increase the number of cases the courts must address, resulting in increased cost to the tax payer.

Proponents of the DWAI law believe that it will further reduce injuries and fatalities caused by impaired driving. While a driver might not be legally intoxicated, even small amounts of alcohol can reduce a driver’s reflexes, dull their senses and even result in falling asleep behind the wheel. For states like Texas which already have a high number of DWI fatalities, impaired driving is a major concern. Further, for those who have been injured or had their property damaged by another driver, this new category may provide further support in the pursuit of damages compensation. Any person affected by the negligent behavior of another driver, especially one under the influence, should contact a Chicago personal injury attorney for assistance.

About the Author: Brooke Haley marketing associate at Millon & Peskin, Chicago workers compensation lawyer that practice in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers’ Compensation, and Personal Injury. Millon & Peskin is a General Civil Litigation Practice with the goal of representing the interests of injured workers, throughout all applicable Courts within the State of Illinois. For more information, please visit http://www.millonpeskin.com.

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