Editors note: This is the first in a series of articles involving new laws passed in the 81st Texas Legislature. Police Chief Roy Halsell will contribute to all reports. Look for next Sunday’s E-T to learn more about these new laws.
When a 13-year old Houston girl was struck and killed by a drunk driver, her family knew that something had to be done and this year, the 81st Texas Legislature passed the Nicole “Lilly” Lalime Act in her honor.
Lalime was exiting a school bus in Houston when John Winne sped past the affixed stop signs and struck her. Lalime was killed instantly, but her legacy will now live on and hopefully protect others who venture onto Texas roadways.
The new law allows police officers to require a blood or breath specimen after pulling over someone suspected of driving while intoxicated (DWI) if that person has prior DWI convictions, if the driver caused bodily harm to anyone else while driving or if there is a passenger 14 years old or younger in the vehicle. The law also includes those who are suspected of boating while intoxicated or flying while intoxicated.
Previously, drivers were allowed to refuse a breath or blood test at the risk of having their license suspended. A judge’s signature was required to obtain a specimen if a driver refused to submit to the test willingly.
Under the Nicole “Lilly” Lalime Act, an officer will be able to require the sample and if the driver still refuses, the suspect will be taken to jail.
Halsell said the passage of this law will make the job of obtaining blood or breath samples easier on his 34 officers and will expedite the process of prosecuting repeat DWI offenders.
“DWI arrests are a big problem everywhere and we have seen arrests increase over the past few years, although, since Erath County went ‘wet,’ DWIs have decreased,” said Halsell.
Last year, the city had 104 DWI stops and Halsell said that many of the traffic stops his officers make are alcohol-related.
“On average, alcohol-related traffic stops have increased, but in 2007, Stephenville police made 115 DWI stops, that number is obviously down,” said Halsell.
The state has had a few test runs that came in the form of “no refusal weekends,” where the state basically implemented the new law in the short-term, only making it applicable during weekend stints.