By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
On a recent drive to Austin and back, I couldn’t help but notice about 10 or 15 Texas Department of Transportation electronic signs which flashed two sequential screens. The first was “1785 Deaths This Year on Texas Roads” and the second was a reminder not to drink and drive.
Wow, I thought… I didn’t realize drunk driver’s caused about 250 deaths per month in Texas alone! Then I started thinking this figure sounded a bit too high. Then my lawyer brain started to kick in and I realized the TxDOT signs were sort of making a play on words… The signs didn’t actually SAY all 1785 were caused by DWI — they had their fingers crossed!
No one wants drunk drivers on our roads. Losing a loved one on the highway is a terrible tragedy no one should experience regardless of whether it’s inattentive driving, road rage, texting or drunk driving. Hopefully the TxDOT officials decision to publish the number of traffic related deaths will turn heads and in doing so make our highways a safer place to drive. You can read some of the PR they got here and here.
The signs leave the clear impression the 1785 tragic losses on the highway are ALL due to Driving While Intoxicated. When you read the quote from TxDOT spokesman Mark Petit, he says “We think that pointing out the number of deaths that have occurred so far this year will make somebody think twice maybe about whether they should pick up that cell phone and text somebody, or whether they should buckle that seatbelt.”
But the signs don’t say, “Buckle Up” and they don’t say, “Don’t Text and Drive.” Each sign I saw had the same sequence of traffic deaths followed by the warnings against drinking and driving.
Here’s Why It’s A Problem
It’s a problem because it leaves a false impression, over-exaggerates, and stokes the flames against a group of people that it’s already somewhat popular to pick on — DWI suspects. TxDOT concedes traffic fatalities have declined 21% in roughly the past decade and Mr. Petit’s warning in the above quote is also clearly against distracted driving.
Think of how angry you would be if your husband, wife, son or daughter were on trial for Driving While Intoxicated and during the jury selection process, you hear extremely angry jurors who want to presume a suspect guilty and give them far harsher punishment — because they’re lead to believe DWI related deaths are approximately 300% worse than they actually are (in 2011, TxDOT reports 3,015 total highway deaths and 1,039 “involved” alcohol).
If there is harm in the Texas Department of Transportation also warning drivers to put down hand-held devices and to wear seat belts in conjunction with the traffic death statistics — I have a hard time seeing it. Everyone wants safer roads.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly. Contacting the attorney through this forum does not create an attorney-client relationship and communications sent through this forum are not privileged nor confidential.