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Smart Money On Sober Drivers During Holiday Season

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Drunk-driving arrests are part of the holiday season, and local defense attorney Steve Monks expects to be busy with clients.

"Absolutely," Monks said Tuesday. "I expect to get calls around midnight that they're in jail for a DWI. The person calling for them is usually a family member."

The danger of driving while drinking is well-documented. Many lives could be at risk every time a drunken driver gets behind the wheel.

That should be a strong deterrent. But if the risk of injury or arrest does not convince people not to drink and drive, there is another factor to consider -- the cost of a DWI.

The cost of a first-time impaired driving conviction, including everything from attorney fees and court costs, to increased insurance rates and counseling fees, can be more than $9,500.

That does not consider the time a person will have to take off from work, or the embarrassment of having to explain the situation to friends, loved ones or an employer.

"There's no question that the smart money is on the sober driver," said Darrell Jernigan, Director of the Governor's Highway Safety Program. "If you're not motivated by the fact that driving while impaired is against the law, and dangerous, compare that $9,500 to what it costs to call a cab to make other arrangements to celebrate safely."

According to the Department of Justice, the Department of Insurance and North Carolina General Statutes, the minimum tab for a first-time DWI conviction includes the following:

  • Fines-- $4,000
  • Average yearly insurance increase-- $2,660
  • Attorney's fees-- $1,000
  • Trial/appeals-- $1,000
  • Court costs, district court-- $100
  • Court costs, superior court-- $125
  • Alternative transportation-- $250
  • Substance abuse assessment-- $50
  • Substance abuse education or treatment-- $75
  • Community service fee-- $200
  • License reinstatement fees-- $50
  • Total-- $9,510

    Officers statewide arrested 980 motorists for driving while impaired last week. A total of 4,580 drivers have been arrested for DWI since "Booze It & Lose It" began Nov. 20.

    Counties with the highest number of DWI citations last week include Mecklenburg (140), Wake (77), and Durham (67).

    The arrests are among the 126,311 total traffic and criminal violations recorded so far. This includes more than 12,000 safety-belt violations, more than 2,600 drug charges, 280 stolen vehicles recovered, and the discovery of 61 fugitives.

    The campaign continues through Jan. 3.

    While Monks expects to be busy for the next few weeks, Judge Alice Stubbs, of the Wake County misdemeanor criminal court, also knows she will see people standing before her facing DWI charges.

    The temptation to drink and drive, Stubbs said, is easy.

    "You're at a party, and you're on the fence, and you think you can drive, and you're impaired," Stubbs said.

    Used to be, people charged with DWI could get an attorney, pay a fine and have the charge reduced to careless and reckless. But with tougher state laws, even first-time offenders face serious consequences.

    A person with a DWI conviction, can lose their driver's license for a year and may only get limited driving privileges for work or school.

    "You can't just go out and drive for any reason," Stubbs said.

    Local therapist Henry Tarkington, who runs the First Step counseling service, was a four-time DWI offender in the 70's and 80's. Under today's system, he advises against taking a chance -- the penalties are just too great.

    "People really have to take a good hard look at themselves," he said. "Say: 'O.K., I'm a good law-abiding citizen. I have my family. I have my kids. I have my job, and now, I'm in jail.'"

    Not to mention $9,500 poorer.


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