MADD conference urges legislative changes

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) recently hosted a conference in Austin, gathering together major supporters with Texas State Legislators to share the findings of an annual report. The report, which focused on the effects that mandatory ignition interlock devices have on drunk drivers, showed the devices stopped nearly 350,000 unlawful attempts to start vehicles nationwide.

“We were meeting to garner support for HB 2089, SB 761, and SB 664, all of which ask for interlock devices to be part of any deferred to judication agreement that a court makes with an offender,” Ron Sylvan, MADD’s Affiliate Executive Director, said. “They would require a six month use of the interlock, and if the offender successfully meets all of the requirements of his or her court order stipulations, then the offense would be wiped from their record.

“We had a tremendous response. We rally our staff across the state. In Texas we have six affiliates, and the staff in those affiliates rally the victims in their authority. We all go down to Austin and start knocking on doors. It’s a long day, but we’re very driven by our mission. We visit every representative and every senator in the state of Texas, and we share our position on these bills and educate those legislators when needed.

“Another important piece of that legislation is if at some point after that the same offender offends again, then the second offense would be treated as a second offense,” Sylvan said. “In other words, it would enhance the offense, unlike current law, which would treat it as a first offense again.

“We know that interlock devices save lives, and we think that these are very strong bills. They are supported by defense attorneys across the state of Texas. We’re very hopeful that these bills will come to fruition and become law,” he said.

Sylvan mentioned some of the support the bills have in the Texas Senate and House of Representatives.

“The three bills mirror themselves,” Sylvan said. “James White is the sponsor of HB 2089. SB 761 is authored and sponsored by Jose Mendez; and SB 664 authored and sponsored by Don Huffines. Over the course of several weeks of conversations with a variety of people, MADD being included, district attorneys across the state, the support behind these bills is big, and we have high hopes for the bills passing.”

Even under the current law, the interlock devices have been responsible for stopping hundreds of thousands of drunk drivers.

“Here in Texas alone over the past ten years, interlocks have stopped 245,000 drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel and driving,” Sylvan said. “The numbers are significantly larger than when you look at the rest of the U.S.

“I think it’s important to focus on the current law, in which a first-time offender, as long as they don’t exceed .15 BAC, can opt for deferred adjudication without an interlock. They might opt to just have their drivers’ license suspended. Data research, time and time ago, show that 50-75 percent of drunk drivers continue to drive on suspended licenses, so it doesn’t really protect the public from those offenders. Thus, the importance of these bills that are being considered right now, would make it mandatory for those offenders to have interlock devices in their cars for a period of six months.”

MADD is focusing most of its support into making the interlock devices mandatory after a drunk driving conviction.

“MADD’s number one legislative priority is to have ignition interlock devices installed for all convicted drunk drivers,” Sylvan said. “Twenty-eight states and Washington DC have all offender ignition interlock laws as we speak. Again, data shows us that they save lives. That is our number one priority. What’s important is that we’re protecting the public from these offenders going out and causing any further harm to the general public.”

Sylvan mentioned a handful of individuals in attendance at the conference who have been directly affected by drunk drivers, including one Texas resident who lost his son to a drunk driver.

“That particular day culminated with a press conference that featured the authors of all three bills, as well as a representative from AAA, one of the local district attorneys, and a victim named Gary Hoff from El Paso who shared with everyone how an offender impacted his life. He happened to have a son named Garrett who was killed by a drunk driver, and he has become a huge advocate for MADD in terms of pushing for stricter drunk driving laws,” he said.

“This is a mission unlike any other. I’ve never seen more committed volunteers associated with any organization as I’ve seen with Mothers Against Drunk Driving,” Sylvan said. “These folks have certainly been touched personally by the issue, and are huge advocates for stricter legislation across the board trying to eliminate this crime. That’s where we want the general public to focus, that these are crimes, they’re preventable crimes, and that the interlock devices are just one step in preventing these crimes from happening a second, third, or fourth time.

“Our hearts go out to the victims of these senseless crimes. It’s really rare to go any day in the Metroplex and not hear something in the news in regards to a drunk driving crash,” he said. “The people who commit these crimes make a decision to get behind the steering wheel of a car and drive in an impaired state of mind, causing huge harm to many, many people in their own communities. We constantly urge the public to get behind us, and to keep reminding our judges, our prosecutors, and our legislators that this can be prevented.”