Local News

Partiers May Be Getting Message

Posted January 3, 1998 12:00 a.m. EST

— New York's Times Square has a long tradition as a boisterous site for welcoming in the New Year. While local celebrations can be equally enthusiastic, if the 1997-98 festivities across 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 arrests for the holidays, and taxi companies experienced phenomenal business for the night. Police in Charlotte and Gastonia say they arrested half as many drunk drivers this year, compared to last year. And not one person was booked into Orange County jail for drunk driving on New Year's.

Officers and lawmakers say it may mean drivers are finally heeding warnings and choosing a designated driver, or are drinking far less at celebrations than they used to. One impetus for drinking less may be North Carolina'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 the Triangle area, taxi drivers and restaurateurs said they saw fewer people who were drunk. One restaurateur said about 75 percent of his customers called cabs to get home. In some places, the demand for cabs caused delays of 45 minutes to an hour.

Alternate New Year's Eve events are gaining in popularity. Boston began First Night Boston, a liquorless family-centered group of activities at the city hub, several years ago. The concept has since spread across the country, with cities reporting increasing 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 seven years.

That makes those extra drinks costly indeed.