The new year is typically a time of celebration. But New Year's Eve also is stereotypically a time of excessive alcohol consumption. For that reason, law enforcement shifts into high gear to help deter celebrations from turning deadly on the streets.
Thus, Columbia County sheriff's office Capt. Steve Morris warns would-be drunken drivers, "We're going to be out in force, and we will be conducting checks this New Year's eve."
After falling for several years, DUI arrests in Columbia County have begun a slow climb. Dropping to 331 in 2005, arrests rose to 355 in 2006. As of last week, DUIs for 2007 stood at 373, with more expected during the holiday.
The good news, Morris said, is that these arrests seem to be more of a result of tougher enforcement than of a rising number of irresponsible drivers.
The penalty for DUI is pretty stiff: In addition to the likelihood of spending a humiliating, sobering night in jail, first-time offenders in Columbia County typically are hit with fines of more than $800, and later take another hit when their insurance rate climbs.
And that's only for "victimless" DUIs, when offenders are simply pulled over and arrested. That doesn't include those caught only after crashing their vehicle, sometimes with deadly results. At least five motorists or passengers died last year in Columbia County in DUI-related crashes.
None of this should happen. It's too easy to drink responsibly or use a designated driver.
Everyone should feel free to celebrate the new year in whatever legal fashion they wish. But getting behind the wheel after having too much to drink? That's no way to celebrate.
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