Arrests for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) have certainly decreased since Texans began staying home to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, but not as much as you might expect.
In Houston's Harris County alone, there was a 45% drop in DWI cases through April, compared to the same period last year, and a 44% drop in cases just from March. Fort Bend, Montgomery, and Galveston counties also all reported significant decreases in DWI cases. But during a time when everyone is supposed to stay home, with bars and restaurants only recently reopening, and doing so at 25% capacity, it's surprising to see that so many Texas are still driving after drinking.
Liquor stores have been considered essential businesses throughout the shutdown and restaurants have been allowed to sell alcohol to-go, both of which have allowed people access to alcohol. But with fewer places open and thus fewer places for drinkers to go, many expected the number of DUI and DWI arrests to drop even more.
Moreover, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has hinted that alcohol-to-go may become permanent as the policy change has been very popular with Texans. The current waiver allows for restaurants with a mixed beverage permit to sell beer, wine, or mixed drinks for carryout or delivery as long as they are ordered with food from the restaurant.
And for those unlucky Texans who got arrested for DWI during the pandemic, acting quickly and staying on top of regulations is more important now than ever. Even though the courts are still operating at reduced capacity and not prioritizing DWI charges at this time, people charged with DWI are still expected to meet deadlines. People charged with DWI have only 15 days from the date of their arrest to request an Administrative License Revocation (ALR) hearing. If they miss the 15-day window, their driver's license will be automatically revoked after 40 days have passed.
The reason for this is because the “temporary license” issued by the arresting officer is only good for 40 days. To keep their license, they need to request an ALR hearing within the 15-day timeframe.
The pandemic is creating problems for law enforcement officers, too, especially concerning how to safely process a DUI or DWI suspect. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) recommends, per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that officers reduce their risk of exposure to the virus by taking the following steps:
1. Maintaining a 6-foot distance whenever possible, wearing PPE when it's not possible, and trying to limit proximity to subjects when not wearing PPE to less than 5 minutes.
2. Using appropriate precautions for breath testing, including considering “blood only” testing.
3. Trying to conduct DUI processing somewhere with good air exchange and PPE, including face shields and face masks when possible.
4. Asking the subject questions about potential exposure to COVID-19 and any present symptoms to ascertain risk level.
5. Using proper hand-washing and sanitizing techniques after coming into contact with a subject.
The coronavirus has changed every aspect of life in Texas and around the country, including the number of people being arrested for DUI and DWI, and how law enforcement officers conduct arrests. Stay safe on the roads and if you find yourself in legal trouble, make sure you hire an experienced lawyer to help you!