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Some say Texas DWI laws have a long way to go

DALLAS (CNN) -- Texas leads the nation in alcohol-related traffic deaths -- 1,734 people were killed on the state's roads last year, half of all of the Lone Star State's driving fatalities.

"We have a problem with alcohol-related deaths," said Richard Alpert, assistant district attorney in Fort Worth, where there are more than 8,000 pending DWI cases.

Accident scene
Over 1,700 people were killed in alcohol-related traffic incidents in Texas last year  

"We have too many fatalities," Alpert said.

"If we're looking at what's killing people in this or really any other state, as much as we fear gangs and other crimes, drunk drivers and vehicles are the major cause of death."

As governor, George W. Bush signed into law a bill reducing the state's blood alcohol limit for driving while intoxicated, and the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving has praised his efforts.

"For safe streets, I urge you to crack down on drunk driving by lowering the alcohol limit to .08," Bush said in January 1999.

But Texas still stands to lose $96 million on federal highway construction money over the next two years, because it is still legal here to carry open containers of booze in vehicles. Attempts in the Texas Legislature to change the law have failed under lobbying pressure from the liquor industry.

As governor of Texas, George W. Bush signed into law a bill reducing the state's blood alcohol limit for driving while intoxicated  

Federal and state campaign finance reports show the liquor industry has contributed more than $387,000 to Bush's presidential bid, and has given more than a half-million dollars to his two campaigns for governor.

Critics of Texas drinking laws also say judges have severely limited use of sobriety checkpoints by police, and they say state laws are not nearly tough enough on repeat drunk drivers.

Prosecutors such as Richard Alpert say more than anything, he's battling a mindset among Texans in toughening DWI laws.

"There's a certain idea of pickup trucks and cans of beer that kind of go together, and I think that's part of the mentality," Alpert said. "People don't see anything wrong or dangerous about drinking and then getting behind the wheel of a vehicle."

"As a kid I behaved like a kid at times," once said.

When he ran for governor, Bush signed a form swearing to the Texas Republican Party that he had never been convicted of a felony. His arrest in Maine was on a misdemeanor. A question on the form asking if he had ever been convicted of a crime was left blank.

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday an aide to Bush filled out that document.

Ironically, while governor, Bush was called for jury duty in an Austin drunk driving case four years ago.

He was dismissed, however, at the urging of a lawyer he later named to the state Supreme Court -- let off jury duty before he could ever be asked in pre-trial juror interviews about his own record of drinking and driving.



Friday, November 3, 2000


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