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Push on for DUI-free New Year's Eve fun

Before you knock back one last drink and get behind the wheel tonight or early Wednesday morning, Sonoma County law enforcement would like you to think about the following figures: A conviction for driving under the influence could cost $10,000, while an average taxi ride costs $50.

Even more sobering is the fact that New Year's Eve is the second deadliest night on the road. On this night last year, DUI drivers accounted for 70 fatalities nationwide, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Sonoma County officers will be out in force tonight looking for impaired drivers, CHP officer Jon Sloat said. CHP will have four extra cars on DUI patrol, and the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office will have one.

A task force of 13 city and county law enforcement agencies known as Avoid the 13 will have lots of officers on patrol focusing on DUI drivers around the county, but no checkpoints, said Sgt. Ken Savano of the Petaluma Police Department, the lead agency of the task force.

"You'll see our officers making lots of stops during this highly visible enforcement period," Petaluma Police Chief Patrick Williams said. "If we suspect anyone is driving while intoxicated, officers will show zero tolerance for drunk driving."

Sloat said drivers should plan ahead and have the number of a sober friend or taxi before heading out to New Year's Eve parties.

"There is no excuse to get behind the wheel if you've been drinking," he said. "There are plenty of options."

The American Automobile Association will again be offering its free ride home program known as Tipsy Tow. From 6tonight until 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, drivers can call 1-800-AAA-HELP for a free tow of up to 10 miles. The service is available to anyone, not just AAA members.

"Everybody wants to have fun at a New Year's party," said Cynthia Harris, spokesperson for AAA Northern California. "But if you've been drinking, don't get behind the wheel. Give AAA a call and we'll make sure you get home safely."

Partygoers planning on leaving their cars at home and getting around via taxi are urged to have patience. New Year's Eve is the busiest night of the year for taxi operators, and it could take up to two hours to get a cab, said Kevin Kroh, owner of A-C Taxi, one of the biggest cab companies in Sonoma County.


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