Montgomery County officials attempt to curb drunken driving

The need for an extension of Woodlands Parkway has long been a topic of debate in Montgomery County.

The need for an extension of Woodlands Parkway has long been a topic of debate in Montgomery County.

The high number of annual DWI and DUI cases and fatalities in Montgomery County has local law enforcement, attorneys and legislators searching for solutions, ranging from forming a dedicated DWI task force to stricter penalties for driving while intoxicated.


DWI is the largest criminal offense category in Montgomery County—between 2,000 and 2,500 cases are filed annually. In 2015, there were 624 DUI-related crashes in the county and 21 fatal crashes, according to data from the Texas Transportation Institute. Since 2010, there have been 153 DUI fatal crashes in the county.


In Texas individuals are charged with a DWI if they are 21 or older and have a blood alcohol content level of higher than 0.08. A DUI crash occurs if individuals have alcohol or illegal drugs in their systems, or any detectable alcohol if they are younger than 21.


“The average number of times someone drives drunk [before they get arrested] is 80 times,” said Kendall Collette, coordinator of volunteer resources for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Southeast Texas. “We know drunk drivers are out there; it’s a matter of finding them and getting them through the legal system and hoping they’ll change their behavior.”


Montgomery County officials attempt to curb drunken drivingIntoxication factors 


When comparing Texas counties with a population of more than 500,000 residents, Montgomery County is at the top of the list with its DWI fatality ratio, Assistant District Attorney Tyler Dunman said.


For example, nearby Fort Bend County, which has a population of more than 600,000, had only 273 alcohol-related crashes in 2015, according to TxDOT. The average blood alcohol content level in Montgomery County—which is 0.172, compared to the legal limit of 0.08—is also higher than the state average.


“Our drunks are drunker than the statewide average,” District Attorney Brett Ligon said during a December Commissioners Court meeting while asking for continuation of a No Refusal grant program. “The higher your level of intoxication is, the more likely you are to be involved in an accident. Everybody knows the person who is slightly buzzed as opposed to the commode-hugging drunk. The commode-hugging drunk seems to be what we have a lot of in Montgomery County.”


There are a number of factors that may contribute to Montgomery County’s higher level of DWI incidents, ranging from environmental to social factors, Dunman said.


“A large number of DWIs are single vehicle crashes where the driver ends up crashing and killing themselves,” he said. “Part of that is when someone goes off a two-lane road in the county, they’re going to hit a pine tree, as opposed to Fort Bend County where you don’t have [as many] trees and things that a lot of folks hit.”


Seventy-four percent of the DWI crashes in the county over the past five years have occurred in rural, unincorporated areas, according to the district attorney’s office.


Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson said he believes one reason the community struggles with the issue is because of its suburban population.


“I think our design leads to it, and our lack of infrastructure on a lot of our roads is dangerous when you aren’t drinking, and sometimes becomes unnavigable when you have been drinking,” he said.


Social activities, such as partying on Lake Conroe and the festivals and activities held in The Woodlands, play a part as well.


“It’s a nice escape from Houston and Harris County,” Dunman said. “You have these folks coming in and engaging in social activities, and when they get on the roadways they may have had too much to drink and crash.”


When an individual is charged with a DWI, he or she is arrested and booked into the county jail, after which there are a number of court settings at which he or she will appear. Dunman said he believes the biggest penalty is the cost of a lawyer, which can cost upward of $30,000 or $40,000.


“Compare that to a $50 cab ride, and the decision is easy to make,” he said.


Montgomery County officials attempt to curb drunken drivingLaw enforcement solutions


TxDOT continues to fund a countywide no refusal grant program, which provides roughly annually $250,000 to help with increased law enforcement for certain weekends and holidays.


However, there is no official DWI task force in the county, which would mean having officers dedicated solely to DWI enforcement full time, Dunman said.


“To me, that’s the next step for us as far as being successful with DUI enforcement,” he said. “I hope our county is moving toward that.”


Henderson said he also has an interest in potentially forming a DWI task force, but enforcing drunken driving is already a never-ending initiative for the sheriff’s office.


“We’ve got folks out there every day who are putting drunk drivers in jail,” he said.


Henderson’s office also works with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to mitigate any over-serving issues at local bars, he said.


In January, state Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, filed House Bill 1327, which would create harsher punishments for convicted drunk drivers when certain factors are present. The bill would add additional factors to the penal code to increase the range of punishment to a first-degree intoxication manslaughter charge, which would range from probation to life in prison.


Montgomery County officials attempt to curb drunken driving






The proposed factors include if more than one person is killed during the crash, if a child is killed, if the driver failed to render aid or if the person has a prior conviction. As of March 16, the bill has been referred to the criminal jurisprudence committee.


Dunman said the solution to DWI cases in Montgomery County has to start with accountability.


“If you’re with a group and someone’s had too much to drink, don’t let them drive,” he said. “Call them a cab or Uber. That $5 or $10 can save lives or their life. That’s the only way we can turn the ship around.”

SHARE THIS STORY


MOST RECENT

Houston 2026 World Cup Bid Committee
Houston vying to become host city for 2026 FIFA World Cup

Houston is among 17 U.S. cities in the race to host the World Cup and is competing against other major cities, such as New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas, for the nod.

Lake Conroe residents wore "Stop the Drop" shirts at the Dec. 19 SJRA meeting. (Eva Vigh, Community Impact Newspaper)
Lake Conroe residents demand end to lake lowering

Donning red T-shirts that read “Stop the Drop,” Lake Conroe residents gathered in full force at a Dec. 12 San Jacinto River Authority board meeting.

The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District accepted the resignation of its board president Dec. 10. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District board president resigns; hydrologist contract terminated

The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District meeting Dec. 10 brought two immediate changes.

Wingstop has a tentative March opening date in Conroe. (Courtesy Wingstop)
Wingstop coming to Conroe in March

The franchise specializes in chicken wings. Its locations are decorated in a '40s aviation theme.

Check out the annual Tomball German Christmas Market this weekend, Dec. 13-15, in Old Town Tomball. (Courtesy city of Tomball)
German Christmas Market: A guide to the Tomball event this weekend, Dec. 13-15

Take a look at our guide for attending the Tomball German Christmas Market this weekend.

HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe multidisciplinary team
HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe develops new heart surgery alternative

The hospital now offers a minimally invasive Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement, or TAVR, procedure to replace a narrowed aortic valve with a catheter, instead of open heart surgery.

Montgomery County voters will have a chance to decide Republican and Democratic nominees in the March 3 primaries. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
County, state candidates file for 2020 primaries

See who filed for positions in north Montgomery County, including the Conroe and Montgomery areas.

Council Member John Champagne speaks to a citizen at the Montgomery City Council's regular meeting Dec. 10. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
Montgomery considers variances, special-use permits for private projects

Montgomery City Council heard complaints and explanations from citizens regarding variances and special-use permits for various private properties across the city.

Licensed registered nurses can earn the Bachelor of Science in nursing degree to be better prepared for leadership and management roles. (Courtesy Lone Star College)
Lone Star College approved to offer bachelor’s degree programs in 2020

Starting in fall 2020, Lone Star College will be one of the first community colleges in the state where students can work toward certain four-year degrees.

An update to the 2016 Montgomery County Thoroughfare Plan was approved by county commissioners Dec. 10. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Montgomery County commissioners approve update to 2016 county thoroughfare plan

The amended plan will provide an up-to-date overview of the future of the county's road network.

Jacob Sustaita conducting the Conroe Symphony Orchestra
Jacob Sustaita now leading Conroe Symphony Orchestra

Sustaita's first concert with the orchestra was in October.

Sugar Britches Cafe opening this winter at Marcel Commons

The cafe will feature a full coffee bar along with breakfast, lunch and bakery items.

Back to top