When local bars across Texas were first forced to close as part of the coronavirus shutdowns, authorities expected to see a notable drop in the number of DWI cases. However, the city of Austin defied those expectations. According to local reports, not only did the rate of DWI arrests remain comparable to the previous year during the lockdown, but during the first weekend when bars reopened in May, the number of DWI arrests doubled.
The Houston area reports similar data. Although their DWI arrest rates actually dropped by about 50 percent during the lockdown, the arrests shot way up after bars reopened—to the point that Houston is now on par to match its arrest rates for 2019. These reports seem fairly consistent throughout other Texas cities.
Interpreting the Numbers
What could be causing DWI arrest numbers across the state to be the same as, or higher than, they were before the pandemic? Some possible explanations:
- The police may have more opportunities to make DWI arrests. With more people staying at home, law enforcement has dealt with less traffic on the roads, fewer traffic violations, and in many cases less crime overall. This reduced activity may make them more able to observe signs of DWI and to make more traffic stops than they would under normal circumstances.
- Law enforcement may also be on higher alert. When bars reopen, the natural assumption from law enforcement is that more intoxicated drivers will be on the road—even though some of the data actually challenges that assumption. As a result, police are likely to make more traffic stops, and in some cases, more likely to mistakenly arrest people on suspicion of DWI.
How does this information affect the average driver in Texas, and what should drivers expect on Texas roads going forward? Some reminders:
- Know your own limits. It's always the safest option to avoid driving if you choose to indulge, but if that's not possible, be aware of how much is “too much” for you. (Many drivers exceed the BAC legal limit of 0.08 without actually “feeling” intoxicated.)
- Be calm and respectful if you're pulled over. Routine traffic stops happen all the time, and the officer won't necessarily suspect DWI unless there is a good reason for it.
- You don't have to submit to a field sobriety test. Contrary to public belief (and any pressure from the officer), you have the right to politely refuse a field sobriety test. Those tests can produce false positives which may lead to invalid DWI charges. It's a personal decision whether to take these tests at a traffic stop unless the officer makes an official arrest. At that point, the “implied consent” rule goes into effect, and you should contact an attorney who can evaluate whether the tests were administered lawfully.
Governor Abbott ordered bar to close a second time due to the spread of COVID 19, however, DWI arrests are still taking place. If you do end up facing DWI charges, you need an experienced and Board Certified DWI attorney to help you navigate the process and ensure the best possible outcome. Contact our office today for a free case evaluation.