This year, Denton County has had a total of 1,852 DWI charges, according to a DWI report by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“As a Denton County resident, I don’t like to see us on the top of this list,” David Causey, the community relations officer for UNT PD, said. “As a police officer it is my duty to protect the members of my community from such incidents and stats like this are very motivating in my job role.”
UNT PD is partnered with Denton PD for a social media campaign called #DWIFreeDenton where they have scheduled posts for peak days of driving while intoxicated, Causey said.
In Texas, there were 3,308 fatal motor vehicle crashes with 35 percent of those crashes being impaired driving accidents in 2018, according to a Denton PD Twitter post. Also, one in three fatal crashes in Texas were impaired driving accidents in 2018.
“It makes me scared to drive at night and on weekends, honestly,” music education freshman Finley Muela said. “Like I know UNT is a big school, but Denton seems like such a small town, and for the DWI rate to be that high, it’s kind of scary.”
UNT PD tries to deter DWIs by actively patrolling areas in and around campus, Causey said.
With the accessibility of alcohol-providing establishments in the UNT area, UNT PD conducts numerous traffic stops that can result in DWI arrests, Causey said.
“I remember trying to get money in the middle of the night on a Friday night, so I went out to the downtown ATM,” physics junior Chris Howard said. “It was not a fun drive going out there. This town turns into a party town pretty quick.”
Protocol for pulling someone suspected of driving under the influence, Causey said, is establishing articulate facts that would lead officers to believe someone is intoxicated while operating a vehicle.
These facts include, but are not limited to, “swerving, driving slow, speeding, can’t stay in a lane, hitting a curb, or running a stop sign just to name a few,” Causey said.
Then the officer can initiate a stop.
“Generally, individuals arrested for DWI never thought they would have driven drunk,” Causey said. “After a few drinks your inhibitions are lowered, and people tend to do things such as drinking and driving that they never thought they’d do.”
DWIs were the leading cause of death on the roads with 37,133 people dead nationally in motor vehicle accidents, with 29 percent of those deaths accounted for with DWIs in 2017, Causey said, citing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“I think that alcohol is such a dumb reason to get seriously injured or to injure someone else,” Muela said. “I just know that it could actually end the lives of people and students.”
There has been a decrease over the past 40 years in traffic fatalities due to safety programs bringing attention to seat belt use and impaired driving as well as safety-focused vehicle improvements, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
There was a 1.8 percent decrease in traffic fatalities from 2016 to 2017, according to the administration.
“The way I feel about driving under the influence is it shouldn’t happen,” Howard said. “Texas doesn’t really have a good culture around that. You have to change the culture, so I’d say there should just be a lot more enforcement, and make sure that people who are drunk have a way to get home.”
Causey said advice he has for students is to find better options than drinking while driving by preparing on how to get home before going out like calling a friend or finding a ride share.
The Denton Police Department could not be reached for comment prior to publication.
The UNT Substance Use Resource and Education Center was unable to comment prior to publication.
“We here at the UNT PD believe that knowledge is power,” Causey said. “And by bringing awareness to DWI or any safety-related subject, our community members can make better informed decisions.”
Featured Image: Drinks sit on the counter of a Fry Street bar as cars drive by. Denton County has the 10th highest number of DWI charges in Texas according to UNT Police officials. Image by Will Baldwin