Software program helps keep drunk drivers off Texas highways
Texas state legislators anticipate saving lives through a new law that automatically suspends drivers found operating motor vehicles under the influence of alcohol. The new administrative law, Administrative License Revocation (ALR), went into effect Jan. 1, 1995, throughout the state. Prior to the new law, defendants found driving while intoxicated (DWI) could continue to operate their motor vehicles for six months to a year while they waited for the DWI criminal trial proceedings.
Statistics indicate an alarmingly large number of cases in which defendants were arrested for a second DWI while waiting for their initial cases to come to trial. The victims of these offenses pleaded with legislators to keep the defendants off the streets until a court could decide guilt or innocence. The new ALR law does just that.
The ALR law requires the suspension of the drivers’ licenses of accused drunk drivers until criminal trial unless the accused contests the suspension in an administrative hearing within 15 days.
Roughly one-third of defendants request a hearing, and since the law requires hearings to be held within 40 days of a given notice of suspension, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) needed a fast and cost-effective way to implement this new “speedy hearing” process.
With no similar program in place in the agency, DPS started a new project to schedule hearings and prosecute offenders. DPS had the responsibility for finding the most efficient way to schedule the hearings and notify the defendants, witnesses and prosecutors in 22 regions. In a state the size of Texas, state-of-the-art communications could have meant thousands of dollars in long distance telephone bills every month.
With less than six months to put a system in place that could handle the anticipated deluge of hearing requests, DPS’s Information Management team discovered the replication and connectivity of Lotus Notes, Lotus Development Corporation, Cambridge, Mass. Using this program, agency personnel and consultants built a system to disseminate hearing information to DPS prosecutors throughout the state, and as a result, the software system incorporates both sending and receiving information on case files.
When a DWI defendant calls DPS to request a hearing to contest the suspension of his or her drivers’ license, ALR operators can set the hearing date while the defendant is on the telephone.
The application also generates official letters to the defendant, summoning him or her to the hearing.
Information flows both ways between DPS prosecutors in the field and DPS headquarters based in Austin.
Using Compaq Sub-notebook (laptop) computers prosecutors dial up the server at state headquarters, download their region’s daily caseload schedules and then disconnect.
Since a replicated copy of the database is stored locally on the laptop computer, the prosecutor can view case schedules, enter case findings and review notes without having to remain in constant telephone contact. The prosecutors e-mail updated case findings back to the administrator at DPS headquarters, who then reviews the results and updates the server.
When prosecutors dial into the system, they receive only the ALR cases for their location. For example, a Dallas prosecutor does not have to spend time downloading cases from other Texas cities, cutting telephone time by as much as 70 percent.
Without the system’s selective replication, accessing case files from a laptop could have been a cumbersome and expensive process since roughly 100,000 people are arrested in Texas for DWI every year.