Driving dry in Raleigh

September 13, 2013 

When Raleigh geared up on “downtown revitalization,” many people started to toast the effort, literally. The bar scene along Glenwood South and even closer to the city’s core has exploded, along with restaurants and entertainment venues. That’s all good.

What’s not good is that too many downtown visitors, many a good distance from their homes in the suburbs, wind up enjoying themselves a little too much, maybe having that third drink that could push them over the 0.08 blood alcohol limit, beyond which they are driving while impaired.

For those who want to push the partying envelope, Raleigh police have some bad news. They’ve gotten a federal grant of over $500,000, which will pay for officers, cars, breath testers and other gear for one purpose: catching drunken drivers.

A little too Big Brotherish, you say? Well, consider that 30 percent of all fatal crashes in Raleigh last year involved alcohol. And then think about all the other accidents that likely involved a driver who’d had too much. Then there’s the fact that North Carolina has some of the toughest driving while impaired laws in the country, and there’s very little wiggle room for even the best lawyer in town to cut a deal.

That means licenses are lost, and once those licenses are returned, the drivers will be paying several times their former insurance rates. Some will have curfews. Others will endure the indignity of one of those machines connected to the car requiring the driver to blow into it to prove sobriety before the car will start. That’s a little hard to explain to a date or, worse, a business associate.

Lawyers who handle such cases will also, by the way, expect to be paid. As one lawyer said: “Anyone who gets in a car knowing he’s too drunk to drive and drives anyway is crazy.”

Lt. Tim Tomczak, one of the Capital City’s most veteran and finest officers, helped draw up the proposal for the federal grant. He said simply, “The majority of people who are coming from downtown are fine, upstanding citizens, but you have others who don’t understand the dangers of drinking and driving.”

Driving after drinking is unnecessary. Most bars will call cabs, and there are businesses that offer the service of having employees go to the cars of drinking people and drive them home in their own cars. Even if a home is in, say, Holly Springs, a hefty cab fare is considerably cheaper than court costs, lawyers and insurance increases – not to mention easier than living with the knowledge of harming someone while driving drunk.

So the rules are simple: Don’t drink to excess. If you do, don’t drive. Don’t guess whether you’ve had too many. Might bars offer portable breath testers? And if you have had even a single drink and you hit a DWI checkpoint, tell the officer the truth.

And enjoy downtown Raleigh. But not too much.

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