Local News

Partiers May Be Getting Message

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RALEIGH — New York's Times Square has a long traditionas a boisterous site for welcoming in the New Year. While localcelebrations can be equally enthusiastic, if the 1997-98 festivitiesacross North Carolinia are any indication, motorists were far less"spirited" than in the past.

A number of North Carolina cities and towns reported fewer DWI arrestsfor the holidays, and taxi companies experienced phenomenal business forthe night. Police in Charlotte and Gastonia say they arrested half as many drunk driversthis year, compared to last year. And not one person was booked intoOrange County jail for drunk driving on New Year's.

Officers and lawmakers say it may mean drivers are finally heedingwarnings and choosing a designated driver, or are drinking far less at celebrations than they used to. One impetus for drinking less may be NorthCarolina's legal limit, which was lowered in 1993 from 0.10 to 0.08.

While there is no official word on on the number of DWI arrests in theTriangle area, taxi drivers and restaurateurs said they saw fewerpeople who were drunk. One restaurateur said about 75 percent of hiscustomers called cabs to get home. In some places, the demand for cabscaused delays of 45 minutes to an hour.

Alternate New Year's Eve events are gaining in popularity. Bostonbegan First Night Boston, a liquorlessfamily-centered group of activities at the city hub, several years ago.The concept has since spread across the country, with cities reportingincreasing attendance every year.

At least one local observer noted the stiff penalties for a DWI conviction: a driving ban for 30 days, and increased insurance premiums for sevenyears.

That makes those extra drinks costly indeed.

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