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As DWI Arrests Continue to Increase Borough Police Monitor Drunk Driving

Candace Braun

A serious crackdown on drunk driving in Princeton Borough has been taking place over the last few years. According to Borough Police records, the number of drunk driving arrests has quadrupled over the last four years, with 126 arrests in 2003, compared to 32 arrests in 2000. Last week, five people were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in the Borough.

There are specific reasons the number has increased so rapidly, said Lt. Dennis McManimon: "A lot of it has to do with the training the officers are receiving."

Four years ago several new officers were brought onto the force, who have started to pursue arrests in drunk driving more aggressively than some officers had in the past, said Lt. McManimon. One squad made four DWI arrests this past weekend.

"That's a lot of arrests for one weekend," said Lt. McManimon.

Despite downtown redevelopment which some believe has driven patrons out of the community, Lt. McManimon believes a factor in the increased arrests is that more people are coming into town to enjoy the nightlife.

He estimated that frequently arrests take place between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., with most arrests on the weekends.

Many arrests do not occur on Nassau Street, but rather on side streets that are dark or difficult to maneuver on, including Stockton Street, said Lt. McManimon.

"Stockton is a tough road to negotiate if you've been drinking," he said.

Other roads on which drunk drivers were arrested last weekend were Shirley Court, Witherspoon Street, Mercer Street, and Lafayette Road.

Very few arrests involve students from the University, said the lieutenant. In fact several arrests made most recently were out-of-towners. During this past week, only two out of five arrests were Princeton residents.

"It does seem that it's more out-of-town traffic [receiving DWIs] than otherwise," said Mayor Joseph O'Neill. "We really appreciate the [Borough] police keeping an eye on this."

Mayor O'Neill said that during a recent discussion with Borough Police Chief Chuck Davall they determined that the recent lowering of the legal blood alcohol level for driving is another factor that has led to more arrests. He believes that because there is a reduced penalty for those found with a .08 blood alcohol level rather than a .10 level, more people are pleading guilty in court and accepting the penalty.

A bill signed by Gov. James McGreevey on January 20 stated that those with a blood alcohol level between .08 and .10 will receive a fine between $250 to $400, and a license suspension for up to three months. Those with a level above .10 will receive fines of $300 to $500, with a license suspension between seven months and a year.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately one drink to the average-built man or woman will make the difference in the reduced blood alcohol level. However, the law enabled the state to receive $7.2 million in federal highway construction funds that they otherwise would not have received.

This new DWI law has made a difference in some states though, according to the safety administration. Studies have shown that in some states where the blood alcohol level has been reduced, there has been a 12 percent decrease in fatal car crashes.

While an individual can be arrested for drunk driving, police must have an alternate reason for pulling a driver over. Some examples sited by Lt. McManimon include drivers that are weaving, driving over the yellow line into the other traffic line, going over a curb while making a turn, going through a red light, or sitting at a green light.

The speed at which a car is driving is also a big determinate, said the lieutenant. A driver who has less to drink tends to drive faster, while a more inebriated driver will go slower.

"At that point they're just trying to stay on their side of the road," said Lt. McManimon.

Once a driver is stopped, the police officer has to identify if the driver appears intoxicated by observing impairment or smelling alcohol on the driver's breath. Suspected drivers are asked to get out of the car and take a "psycho-physical" test, which involves checking for coordination by walking a straight line toe-to-heel, and reciting the alphabet or identifying the day and time to measure coherence.

Balancing on one foot is also usually an easy way to tell if someone is drunk, said Lt. McManimon: "Typically people will fall over or put their foot down."

Once a driver is determined to be drunk, the car is towed and impounded for 12 hours, unless a sober passenger is in the car who is able to drive the car home. The driver who has been arrested is detained for 12 hours unless a friend or family member is able to come pick them up. This is done so that the driver does not get behind the wheel before he or she has sobered up, said Lt. McManimon.

High Price of Taxis

For those who enjoy drinking but would like to find a safe and legal way home, there are generally two options: having a designated driver for the evening or hailing a cab. However in Princeton, the cost of taking a cab home is much higher than some residents are willing to pay.

Triumph Brewery encourages patrons to take taxis if they seem impaired, and will call a taxi for customers if asked, said one employee. A framed board on the wall by the bathroom lists five area taxi services that residents may call.

Taxi availability is not the problem for most residents, however. For those who live in the Borough, the cost for one person to take a cab within the limits of the Borough is $7. This increases to $10 if another passenger takes the cab, or $13 if the passengers are going to two separate destinations. In addition, if the cab is kept waiting for 15 minutes or more, an additional $8 is added to the fare.

For those living outside of the Borough, taxi fare increases by large margins. For example, to take a cab from River Road off Route 27, which is considered Montgomery Township, to Triumph Brewery on Nassau Street, the cost would be $17 for one person, or $19 for two people, plus $2.50 per mile outside of town, according to an employee of AAA Princeton Taxi.

"Even in the Borough you pay $7...that's pretty stiff," said Mayor O'Neill. "That may be a contributing factor if people are opting to drive home impaired."

While taxi fares are decided on by Borough Council, Mayor O'Neill said Council is unlikely to consider lowering the fares because "taxi drivers have to earn a living wage."

The mayor said that most likely a change in fare would only be considered if taxi drivers were to complain to the Borough that they were losing business.

Nevertheless, the cost of taxi fare should not discourage individuals from taking one home, said Lt. McManimon, especially if the alternative is a $250 fine.

"It's sure a lot cheaper to get in a cab than to drive," said Lt. McManimon.

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