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DUI enforcement having an effect; New Years fatalities down
Uni Taxi driver Maria Garcia checks some paper work inside her taxi Wednesday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

At Uni Taxi, drivers are ready for a long and hectic New Year’s Eve.

"After midnight it definitely gets busy," said Uni Taxi manager Alondro Vargas. Vargas said while some folks start out the night with a designated driver, "they start drinking, too, so at the end of the night, they’d rather just leave the car there and call a taxi."

As on every New Year’s Eve, local law enforcement will be out in force tonight with roadblocks and patrols targeting impaired driving. And the familiar sight of flashing blue lights on the last night of the year appears to have had
some effect.

"It seems in the last few years that people who may have driven drunk have figured out that law enforcement is out in large numbers," said Sgt. Dean Allen, post commander for the Georgia State Patrol’s Gainesville post. "There’s a few who still get out there, but most of them know not to do it."

There are no figures immediately available for DUI arrests in Hall County on New Year’s Eve, but data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggest that nationally, alcohol-related traffic fatalities on New Year’s Eve are down.

In 2005, the most recent year for which data was available, there were 193 alcohol-related fatalities across the country on New Year’s Eve. There were 259 in 1986.

In 2008, Georgia had 416 alcohol-related fatal accidents throughout the year, a 5 percent decrease from the previous year.

Getting those numbers down is the goal of special enforcement efforts like this weekend’s "Operation: Zero Tolerance," said Katie Fallon, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

"Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is the most dangerous time to travel," Fallon said. "And that’s why we have these efforts during the holiday travel period, to warn people they need to be careful and either drive sober or have a designated driver."

Those efforts have an effect, said Misty Moyse, a spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

"We know increased visibility and highly visible checkpoints reduce crashes and drunk-driving fatalities on an average of about 20 percent," Moyse said.

Moyse added that 12,000 people a year are killed by drunk driving across the country.

"One thousand people are dying every month due to something that’s preventable," she said.

Hall County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kiley Sargent said it has been a few years since the last fatal New Year’s Eve crash in Hall. But he doesn’t think the number of DUI arrests have noticeably decreased.

"I wouldn’t say we’ve seen fewer arrests," Sargent said. "They’ve pretty much been sustained though the past few years. But I do believe the message is getting out to the public to make safe decisions and not to drink and drive."

Sargent said Hall County deputies will "have our share of roadblocks out there, and they will be throughout the county."

Enforcement efforts will continue through the weekend, Sargent said.

"With this being a Thursday night, we expect some of the parties will filter on through into the weekend."

Gainesville Police Sgt. Dale Cash said officers assigned to focus on impaired drivers haven’t seen a decline in New Year’s Eve DUI arrests.

"The numbers are still the same," Cash said. "We work it like we always have in the past, to help keep the numbers where they are, so they don’t get any worse."

Cash said several options are available for intoxicated people to get home safely, "but some people still feel the need to drive after they’ve been drinking."

"Our objective is to have a safe night for everyone — for the citizens, the officers and the people coming through the city — so they can wake up the next day and start a new year."

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