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Party Wisely : 'Tis the Season, So Be Heedful of Stiffer Drunk-Driving Laws : TALES FROM THE FREEWAY


Recently, I was reading an etiquette book that was written in the early 1960s. Besides addressing the gaucherie of smoking a cigar anywhere other than City Hall, the book devoted a lengthy chapter on how to drink responsibly at parties.

Doing the cha-cha on the host's coffee table or spilling Drambuie on the off-white carpet was about as faux pas as you could get. Otherwise, the rules were fairly simple.

Guests at early 1960s holiday parties were responsible for gauging how merry they were becoming after their fourth Chelsea Sidecar. Hosts were responsible for providing hot coffee before turning their drinking guests out onto the highways and byways.

This party scenario of letting the corn doodles fall where they may and having another one for the road drives people like Cynthia Roark mad. Roark, a Fallbrook resident whose school-age daughter was killed by a drunk driver, is the San Diego County chapter president of the 3,000-member Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. She wants to make the phrase "designated driver" more commonplace than "three-martini lunch."

"Our issue is not alcohol, it's driving while under the influence of alcohol," Roark said. "We want everyone to get home safely, we don't want people on the road endangering their lives, much less the lives of other people."

To this end, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers has launched a holiday public awareness campaign that includes a children's poster contest and the distribution of red ribbons to be tied around car antennas as a symbol of the driver's commitment to drive sober.

Roark says there are several things that hosts of holiday parties can do to ensure that guests have a good time and make it home safely.

"Hosts should plan alternatives to alcoholic beverages, offer a big array of nonalcoholic beverages," Roark said. "We also encourage people who host parties to serve foods that are not high in salt content so it causes someone to drink more."

Other party tips include having someone play the role of bartender rather than have the alcohol free flowing, and to stop serving alcohol an hour before the party's end, Roark said. But most important is for the host to encourage her guests, when she is inviting them, to arrange for a designated driver.

"We call a designated driver, a sober driver, the life insurance of a party," Roark said. "Pre-planning is the best way to a party so everyone is comfortable and the guests' needs are met."

Anyone interested in obtaining more information from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers can write 510 N. Escondido Blvd., Suite 2B, Escondido 92025. The phone number is 746-6233.

Last year, from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, there were two deaths related to drunk driving on North County freeways, said John Marinez, a California Highway Patrol spokesman.

All together in 1989, 60 people died on North County freeways as a result of drunk driving, according to the CHP. Nine of those fatalities were drunk drivers.

There were 2,019 arrests for drunk driving that year--64 at Thanksgiving; 35 on Christmas Eve/Day; 33 on New Year's Eve/Day.

This year in California there have been several significant changes in the drunk driving laws, most notably the new, lower blood alcohol level of .08% as the legal limit.

Under this new law, put into effect Jan. 1, there were 16% more drivers arrested in Southern California for drunk driving on state highways, and 10% more drivers were convicted of the crime during the first 10 months of this year than during the same period in 1989.

Another new state law enacted in July, called the Admin Per Se Law, gives police and CHP the authority to take away a person's driver's license immediately if their blood alcohol level is .10% or higher, Marinez said. The officer can issue a temporary driver's license good for 90 days, but if a drunk driver is found guilty in court, he could have his license suspended for six months or longer, depending on the circumstances, Marinez said.

In an effort to eliminate the death toll and nab as many offenders as possible, the CHP is beefing up its presence for the days surrounding Christmas and New Year's, said Jerry Bohrer of the CHP's Oceanside office. Starting at 6 p.m. the Friday before these two Tuesday holidays, officers will work extended shifts to ensure more ground is covered, he said. A sobriety checkpoint, most likely in Oceanside, is also going to be enacted sometime during the remaining weeks of the holiday season, Bohrer said.

Also, the quick release program, which enables a drunk driver to be released to a sober adult after paying a fine, will be suspended before Christmas and New Years. Anyone arrested can expect to spend a minimum of 24 hours in jail, but more likely could serve up to four days jail time, Marinez said.

"With the quick release suspended, everyone stays in jail for the duration," he said. "This year, if you're arrested on a Friday (before a holiday), you'll probably be spending Christmas or New Year's in a drunk tank, and those can get real crowded, especially on holidays."

Consider, also, the economic mess of getting arrested for drunk driving. It costs $1,000 to bail out of a San Diego County jail after being arrested on a driving under the influence charge.

Procedure also calls for the drunk driver's vehicle to be towed at the owner's expense. Add to this the vehicle storage charge while the the person is cooling his or her heels in the drunk tank, and there goes the Christmas club savings.

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