HOUSTON – It’s the last Friday of the year, and New Year’s Eve celebrations are just around the corner.
The holiday is notorious for its extravagant, overnight parties, loud music, fireworks and plenty of booze, but AAA and the Houston Police Department want the public to know it’s not all fun and games.
On Christmas Eve authorities said two HPD officers were involved in a head-on crash with a drunk driver, which left them both burned.
One of the officers was released from the hospital, but the other remains there with burns on more than 50 percent of his body. He will undergo his fourth surgery Friday.
In the wake of the accident, HPD has been cracking down on drunk driving, and - ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations – and is warning people about the risks, dangers and consequences of driving while impaired.
“I think what it really does is point out the dangers of DWI,” said Sgt Don Egdorf with the DWI Task Force. “It points out how serious these crashes can end up. These officers are so lucky that they weren’t stuck in that car and ended up dying in there.”
“We are ground zero. We kill more people on our roads than anyone else,” said Sean Teare, assistant Harris County attorney.
In Harris County, the worst county in the nation when it comes to drunk driving deaths, law enforcement officers from multiple agencies will be out enforcing their “No Refusal Initiative”.
Which means if you are stopped for drunk driving and refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test, officers will immediately obtain a search warrant from a judge and force you to have your blood drawn instead.
“We will be a one-stop shop. We will have judges, prosecutors and phlebotomists standing by,” Precinct One Constable Alan Rosen said.
AAA Texas will be offering the “Tipsy Tow” program offered to drivers on New Year’s Eve. The agency will offer free towing and ride to any driver that is too impaired, as long as it is within a ten-mile radius. The driver will foot the bill beyond the free ten miles.
The service is open to anyone, not just AAA members. It is only valid for a one-way, one-time ride for the driver and tow for the vehicle to the driver’s residence or hotel where they are a registered guest.
The service is not available for inoperable vehicles, vehicles with a flat tire or no gas and anyone other than the driver of the vehicle
“We encourage folks not to drive intoxicated, don’t drive 'intexticated' as well,” said Joshua Zuber, a spokesman with AAA Texas. “Distracted driving is a huge problem throughout Houston, really throughout the state of Texas as well. And of course the consequences of texting and driving can be the same as drinking and driving, which can be deadly."
Egdorf said DWI related crashes have been on the increase in 2018. He says officers will be cracking down on anyone who gets behind the wheel while impaired.
Memorial Herman will touched on the dangers of drowsy driving and dangers of impaired or distracted driving, and MADD had guest speaker, Dr. Toron Wooldridge, who lost two sisters to a distracted driving accident in 2016.
“When you’re having a good time sometimes you forget that looking down at your cell phone or looking at GPS coordinates could ultimately impact your life," said Wooldridge. "Unfortunately for my family coming back from a holiday trip my sister they were killed because of the driver looking down at her GPS. Be careful and make sure this holiday weekend when you’re transitioning from wherever you go that you exhibit those safe habits."
Houston and Texas roads are among the worst in the country for drunk driving accidents, according to authorities.
In 2017, there were 1,024 people killed on Texas roads in accidents in which a driver was under the influence of alcohol; 449 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver.
The goal for the conference is to ensure these rates drop and to make the roads a safer place.