Texas Transportation Institute researchers report that an estimated 43 percent of all fatal traffic crashes in Texas during 2001 involved at least one driver, pedestrian, or bicyclist who was legally drunk. Nationwide, that number is only 35 percent.
Becky Davies and David Willis of TTI’s Center for Transportation Safety further state that lack of adequate reporting procedures is compounding the drunk driving problem in Texas. Often, drivers involved in fatal crashes who are taken to hospitals are not tested to determine their blood alcohol concentrations (BACs), and the problem is getting worse. In 2001, there were 5,138 drivers involved in fatal crashes in Texas. Some 2,263 (44 percent) of those drivers were taken to a hospital. The Accident Records Bureau in the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) received the alcohol test results (BACs) for only 459 (20 percent) of the drivers who were taken to hospitals.
In her interviews with emergency medical personnel, Research Scientist Becky Davies found that hospitals may be reluctant to conduct alcohol testing because the Texas Insurance Code allows insurance providers to invoke a so-called “Intoxicants Clause” in their policies. The clause allows insurance companies to deny payment of claims for treating a person who was under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of an accident. “From the hospital’s perspective, it may be better if they don’t know whether the person is under the influence of alcohol. If the driver tests positive for alcohol, the hospital may not be reimbursed for the cost of treating the person,” Davies said. “Frequently, those injured drinking drivers who are not tested for alcohol are also never charged with DWI, and they don’t receive treatment or intervention for a potential drinking problem. Consequently, they may continue to drink and drive.”
The TTI researchers also found other impediments to alcohol testing in Texas, including confusing statutory language on who must order or administer such tests and the requirements for reporting the test results to DPS. “Unless steps are taken to correct these deficiencies, important decisions about funding and enforcement of DWI laws in Texas must continue to be made on the basis of only a fraction of the information that should be readily available to policy-makers,” said Davies.