Transportation

Researchers Give Training On How To Prevent Drunk Driving

Transportation researchers are teaching probation officers about DWI monitoring technology.

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Ignition interlocks prevent a driver from starting a car if they’ve been drinking.

It’s standard equipment in Texas for many people convicted of DWI.

“The device is attached to a curly cord and basically sits wherever they want to put it, but generally in the cup holder area.”

Shannon Pena is giving us a demonstration of an ignition interlock device.

“And so you blow for four or five seconds, and then there’s a little clicking sound.”

Pena’s family operates EZ Interlock, just across the street from Houston Municipal Court. They’re one of several state-approved vendors in Houston that install the devices.

The small black boxes record whether a driver has alcohol in their system. If they do, the car won’t start.

Pena says the devices then save the information.

“And we download it all into our computer and send a full report of all the monthlong activities to their probation officer.”

Pena says her business monitors about 1500 probationers a month, and that’s a lot of information for probation officers to handle.

Figures show about 100,000 people are arrested every year in Texas for driving drunk.

Researcher Maury Dennis with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute says alcohol is the big reason why probation departments have such a heavy workload.

“Typically as a condition of probation you’re not supposed to drink at all, so if you’re getting a reading then you’re violating a condition. Probationers have to meet with their probation officers at least once a month to review these records.”

Despite the high number of DWI cases, Dennis says many probation officers lack specific training on how interlock devices work and how to interpret the data.

With the help of a grant from TxDOT, Dennis and other experts are now providing that training around the state.

Ignition interlocks have been on the market since the 1980’s but Dennis says there’s been a lot of technological changes.

“When they first came out you didn’t know who was taking the test, but now there are cameras that are used in many cases so you can see who’s taking the test. They’ve done a lot of things to upgrade the reliability and validity of it.”

Dennis says they provided training last year to about 400 Texas probation officers. In May they’re doing a training class in Galveston County.

They hope to bring the program to Harris County in 2015.

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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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