By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
While the number of fatalities on Austin roadways has decreased compared to this time last year, the number of driving while intoxicated arrests in Austin seems to be holding steady, according to Austin Police Department data from the first quarter of 2016.
Between Jan. 1 and Mar. 31, 2016, APD made 1,517 DWI arrests. During that same time period in 2015, APD made 1,540 DWI arrests.
“On average, every year we do about 6,000 DWI (arrests) department-wide,” said APD Lieutenant Blake Johnson. “We’re on pace to be around that same number this year.”
Fortunately, there has been a decrease in the number of fatalities this year compared to the same time period last year. 2015 was the deadliest year on Austin roadways with a total of 102 fatalities. Of those, 65 percent involved impaired drivers.
Between Jan. 1 and Apr. 24, 2016, there have been 21 traffic fatalities in Austin; five of those involved an impaired driver.
During that same time period in 2015, there were 30 traffic fatalities in the city, with 13 of those involving impaired drivers.
Because of the high number of fatality accidents that involved an impaired driver, APD added a third DWI unit beginning in July 2015. Each DWI unit is made up of a sergeant, corporal and an average of seven officers that patrol city-wide for impaired drivers. Adding the third unit ensures there is dedicated DWI enforcement seven nights per weeks. Johnson said at times there could be up to 20 DWI officers patrolling the city.
“These are dedicated officers just enforcing DWI,” Johnson said. “I think it’s proved itself to be a better use of that manpower.”
An analysis of DWI arrests by zip code shows that the downtown zip code of 78701 had the highest number of DWIs in 2015, with 629 arrests made. 78704 had the second highest number with 535 arrests.
Close to home
In the early evening hours of Apr. 5, police arrested a 25-year-old woman for DWI after her Honda Civic crashed into a Chevy Suburban at the intersection of RM 620 and RM 2222.
“The Civic was upside down and resting on its roof. Just prior to the crash, APD had received a 911 call about a reckless driver on FM 2222 westbound. The driver of the Honda, Jamie Lynn Winklestern, white female, 25 years of age, was arrested for DWI,” said APD Spokesperson Jennifer Herber.
In the Four Points area, the highest number of DWI arrests were made in the 78726 zip code, which contains the section of RM 620 from Anderson Mill Road to Four Points Drive. There were 33 arrests made in 2015 by APD.
APD made four DWI arrests made in 78730 last year and none made in 78732 but most all of 78732 and part of 78730 are policed by Travis County Sheriff’s Office. Four Points News is working on gathering DWI information from TCSO.
Johnson said that despite having a higher number of DWI arrests in a certain zip code, it’s hard to pinpoint specific trouble spots due to people traveling from one location to another and often stopping at multiple locations. Also, officers tend to more heavily patrol high traffic, higher speed roadways such as RM 620.
No refusal initiatives
APD conducts numerous no-refusal initiatives throughout the year over holiday weekends such as the upcoming Memorial weekend and festivals such as the Republic of Texas Biker Rally. During a no refusal weekend, if a driver is stopped and is suspected of drunk driving, an officer is able to obtain a search warrant on site in order to obtain a breath or blood sample.
APD also receives additional grant-based enforcement throughout the year that puts additional DWI officers on patrol.
“We are bolstering our enforcement efforts,” Johnson said.
While he said it is speculative to say that ride sharing companies have resulted in a decrease in the number of DWIs, he said APD supports any initiative that keeps people from driving while intoxicated.
“Any alternative to drinking and driving is welcome and we think it’s a good thing,” Johnson said. “Whether it’s taking a cab, calling a friend, using ride sharing or staying at a hotel, the more options people have, the better off they are.”
He said that statistically, when a person is arrested for DWI, it’s not their first time to drive while under the influence.
“Plan ahead, make good decisions, don’t even leave it as an option,” he said. “Getting caught that one time can be devastating, both emotionally and financially.”