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Stricter DWI Rules Begin Dec. 1

Posted November 28, 2006

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— Drunken driving is the focus of a new law that takes affect in North Carolina on Friday.

The legislation will make 36 changes to existing law in the state that ranks sixth in the country for alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Supporters of the new legislation say that changes are long overdue.

Last summer, legislators passed the changes in an effort to turn up the heat on drivers who drink too much. It also sets new standards of accountability for the legal system.

"Every DWI case will go into a database," said defense attorney John K. Fanney. "It'll identify the person, their alcohol content, the prosecutor, the judge, the defense attorney, and the reasons why, if any, the case was found not guilty, or dismissed."

The law is designed to limit backroom deals in which DWI offenders receive a lesser sentence. Fanney said all the changes will do is pressure judges and district attorneys to convict.

"Our problem, or defense attorneys' problems, with that is that more convictions doesn't necessarily equate to safer roads," Fanney said.

"We as prosecutors certainly welcome the open-ended process, and we want the public to know what's going on in their courtroom," said Assistant Wake County District Attorney Ned Mangum.

Other changes going into effect Friday give law enforcement greater freedom to conduct DWI checkpoints, and any driver who injures someone while impaired could face a felony conviction -- even a first-time offender.

Also, the new legislation makes it illegal for anyone under 21 to drink alcohol. Currently, it's only illegal to possess it. Finally, someone could be charged with DWI while riding a bicycle or driving a tractor.

Representatives of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said the new law would make North Carolina roads safer. But Fanney said they won't be enough to make real change.

"There are better ways to go at stopping the problem of drinking and driving," Fanney said. "If the legislature really wanted to stop it, enact zero tolerance. It's not going to happen."

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