CORTLANDT, N.Y. Many consider Memorial Day the unofficial beginning of summer, and barbecues and beer have become a ubiquitous feature of the late-May holiday. New York State Police said enforcement of DWIs and safety restraints have also become a prominent feature of holiday weekends in Cortlandt.
"I would say that the enforcement definitely helps, absolutely," said Sgt. James Kranik of the New York State Police in Cortlandt, referring to DWI deterrents. "When people expect the police to be out, theyre less apt to be doing things they shouldn't be doing," he said.
Increased enforcement by New York State Police of seatbelt restraint and DWI laws has curbed some holiday drunk driving, said Kranik. The Westchester County District Attorney's office has also targeted prosecution of vehicular crimes. Nevertheless, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reported that 158 people nationwide died in drunk driving related crashes in 2010 over the same holiday weekend.
DWI defense attorney Craig Brown, with the firm Larkin, Axelrod, Ingrassia and Tetenbaum, said, "It's incredible that people still take the risk of drinking and driving because the penalties just continually get upgraded."
The firm typically defends people charged with DWIs on roads and interstates in and around the Town of Cortlandt. Brown said fines range in thousands for those convicted of any vehicular incident involving alcohol.
For a non-criminal violation conviction of Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI) a state fine will range between $560 and $760, and felony DWI convictions range between $1,400 and $5,400. Those convicted of felony DWIs can also face mandatory jail time.
The Department of Motor Vehicle fines anyone convicted of an alcohol related traffic incident $750. Brown said most people will have their license suspended or revoked, resulting in another $332.50 in classes and fees.
For a misdemeanor charge there is a six month license revocation period, drivers will be required to install at their own cost an "ignition interlock device," essentially a breathalyzer that must be passed before the car will start. Monitoring of the device is done through a private company for between $65 and $105 per month, and installation of the device is up to $500, said Brown.
This doesn't account for increased car insurance rates, lawyer fees or additional classes required by the courts.
"I would say over the years, that there has been a decrease. But clients who run taverns, or bars, or restaurants have all indicated to us that the alcohol consumption has decreased as the penalties for DWIs have increased," said Brown.