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WENTWORTH: Please drive safely during the holidays

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AUSTIN - Holiday celebrations can end suddenly when Texans fail to drive responsibly. 

Between December 21 and January 1, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) will increase patrols in an effort to keep Texas drivers and their passengers alive and uninjured.

During the same period last year, troopers made more than 1,100 driving while intoxicated (DWI) arrests.  Troopers also issued more than 15,000 speeding citations, 2,000 seat belt/child safety seat citations and 18,000 other citations to keep Texas highways safer for everyone.

DPS has offered the following tips for safe travel during the holidays:

  • Slow down, especially in bad weather, construction areas, heavy traffic and unfamiliar areas.
  • Eliminate distractions, and please don't text while driving.  It's illegal in several Texas cities.
  • Buckle up everyone in the vehicle; it's the law.
  • Don't drive fatigued, and allow plenty of time to reach your destination.
  • Drive defensively, as holiday travel may present additional challenges.
  • Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained before your trip begins.
  • Slow down or move over one lane for tow trucks, police, fire and EMS vehicles stopped on the side of the road with emergency lights activated.  That, too, is the law.

            You may receive road condition and travel information by calling the Texas Department of Transportation, toll-free, at 1-800-452-9292.

Holiday party hosts may want to offer guests alcohol-free drinks that now include non-alcoholic wines, beers and champagnes.  Thoughtful hosts would be doing a favor for those who want to moderate their alcohol intake and those who don't drink alcohol.

Number one on any safe driving tip list is this:  Don't drink and drive; designate a driver. 

If a designated driver isn't available, Mothers Against Drunk Driving promotes calling #TAXI (#8294) from your mobile phone.  The number automatically connects you to the first available cab in your area.  It works everywhere in North America where there is taxi service.

            Some counties in Texas, including the San Antonio area, now have "no refusal" DWI policies.  In Bexar County, suspected drunk drivers who refuse a breath test are subject to a mandatory breath test or blood draw after an officer obtains a search warrant. 

            As a state senator, I have sponsored and voted for bills that increase the penalties for driving while intoxicated.  Penalties are costly and are punishable by steep fines, jail time, and driver license suspension. 

            A conviction for DWI with a passenger younger than 15 years of age is a state jail felony.

            In addition to fines, other costs associated with a drunk driving conviction may add up to more than $10,000 for bail, legal fees, court appearances, court-ordered classes and vehicle insurance increases. 

            Too often the holiday is marred with tragic tales of loved ones, or even whole families, being killed in a car crash while returning home from a holiday visit.  

            Please have a wonderful holiday, but for the safety of all, do not drink and drive.

This column was written by State Sen. Jeff Wentworth.


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