Interview with Lynn Nguyen, Harris County Assistant DA
DWIs in Harris County jumped 34 percent from February 2021 to March 2021. Our sobering center numbers for the same time period increased 44 percent.
Overall, first quarter DWIs in 2021 are 16 percent higher than first quarter 2019, while 45% of “under 21” DWIs resulted in crashes this year. We turned to Lynn Nguyen, Assistant District Attorney in the Harris County DA’s Office, for some insight behind these numbers. Currently she is serving as Chief Prosecutor of the Vehicular Crimes Division.
Why are first quarter DWIs higher in 2021 than 2019?
The numbers seem to be increasing mostly in March, which was a terrible month, especially when it came to fatality cases, as well as DWIs. I can’t say it’s a for-sure causation, but that is when everything opened back up in Harris County and the mask mandate was lifted. You definitely saw more bars opened and packed to the brim. I can only imagine that was one of the causes. I can’t say for sure because I don’t have all the data.
What about the increase of DWIs for “under 21”?
I don’t think it’s something new. That has always been increasing, but it’s being brought more to our awareness. And it’s not just the increase in DWIs of underage drinkers. 45% of the DWIs for those “under 21” involved crashes.
We also find the average blood alcohol content (BAC) of these underage drinkers — most are over .15, which is nearly twice the legal limit in Texas. So it makes sense that these kids are getting more intoxicated and because of that intoxication level, they are involved in more crashes.
Does it surprise you that “under 21” continues to increase despite your focused efforts?
I wouldn’t say it surprises me because it’s such an overwhelming problem in Harris County. We’ve been trying to combat it by educating high school students and doing the “Shattered Dreams” program to schools and bring awareness of these cases to the media.
It doesn’t mean we’ll stop what we’re doing. We need to figure out a way to do more. We’re always looking for help with ideas.
What is different about Harris County?
We have a strong drinking culture, in general, in Harris County. It’s why Harris County has led the nation in intoxicated fatalities for so long.
Obviously it starts at the top and goes down. If people over the age of 21 are not being responsible and get intoxicated and drive, they pass that culture to the younger people.
How are things looking to date?
So far in April, it seems we are trending back up, which is unfortunate. I try not to scare my friends and family with that statistic, but (for their safety) I also feel the need to make them aware of what’s happening in Harris County. I tell them to avoid I-45. It really is the most terrible highway to drive on – so many crashes and so many fatalities. People drive recklessly, too, so it’s not just intoxication.