It's a statistic that's disconcertingly familiar: Harris County has more drunken driving deaths per capita than any other county in the nation. And Houston ranks second in the nation for youth binge drinking. Mothers Against Drunk Driving Vice President of Programs Cathey Wise says alcohol kills more young people than all illegal drugs combined.
"So when you look at what's going on in Harris County, we see this to be a violent crime that can be easily avoidable. We want to make drunk driving the public health equivalent to polio."
Houston was chosen as a pilot site for the national MADD campaign to eliminate Drunk Driving. The organization's strategic plan calls for a 25 percent reduction in drunk driving fatalities and a five percent decrease in underage and binge drinking among 16 to 20-year olds. Houston Police Lieutenant Tom Jennings says the department is working with MADD to develop strategies to reach those goals.
"We all know as a society that DWI is a very tragic crime and law enforcement always has this in the forefront. However, there usually is a generic push around major holidays. This is an exploratory meeting with -- that Chief Hurtt and MADD have organized with the area law enforcement agencies to try to keep DWI a collective effort in front of law enforcement on a continuous basis."
One idea under consideration is to have HPD along with the Harris County Sherrif's Office and other local municipalities share their resources to crack down on DWIs. For instance, each agency might be charged with taking one night out of seven to extra patrols on the streets to better enforce DWI laws.
"Your best efforts are your best efforts and the best efforts of all of the -- that's why a collective effort by area law enforcement agencies only strengthens that awareness of DWI and the effort to prevent tragedies from happening."
Representatives from MADD, HPD, various law enforcement agencies and the Harris County District Attorney's Office are holding meetings to work out the logistical and financial details as they attempt to create a unified attack on drunk driving. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.