July 4 DWI crackdown starts with 14 arrests

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police launched their portion of the Carolinas' July 4th crackdown on drunk driving with 14 arrests overnight at a DWI checkpoint in east Charlotte.

CMPD says it will conduct additional checkpoints this weekend, as part of North Carolina's Booze It and Lose It campaign.

Police in several cities across the Carolinas had similar checkpoints overnight. The South Carolina Highway Patrol also has a DWI campaign under way this weekend.

About 2,000 motorists were arrested on DWI charges last Independence Day weekend, and police expect more of the same this year.

The overnight checkpoint, conducted from 11 p.m. Friday until 3 a.m. today, was on Eastway Drive near Peace Street. CMPD had help from UNC Charlotte police and the Mint Hill police. Authorities report these results:

-- 10 DWI arrests of drivers 21 or older

-- 2 DWI arrests of drivers under the age of 21

-- 1 DWI charge of aiding and abetting

-- 17 driving with a revoked license charges

-- 73 citations for driving with no license

-- 5 citations for violations of the open container law

-- 6 drug citations

-- 2 citations for possession of alcohol by an under-age person

The DWI crackdown comes on a holiday weekend in which about 1.5 million Carolinas residents will be traveling 50 or more miles from home, according to the AAA.

AAA Carolinas says Fourth of July motor vehicle travel will be three percent higher than last July 4, with 485,000 South Carolina residents and 1 million from North Carolina traveling 50 miles or more.

As usual, most people are traveling by motor vehicle. Only four percent of Carolinas residents traveling this weekend are flying.

Those who travel by motor vehicle face some danger. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says July 4 typically is the most dangerous 24-hour holiday of the year, with an average of 144 traffic deaths reported on that date each of the last five years.

The Carolinas' Highway Patrol officials held news conferences earlier this week, announcing their intention to get drunk drivers off the road. North Carolina law enforcement officers made about 1,200 DWI arrests last Independence Day holiday period, and about 800 were made in South Carolina. Those two agencies, along with county and local police departments, plan hundreds of DWI checkpoints and saturation patrols over the next four days.

But speeders also will be targeted.

"I have instructed our troopers to crack down on traffic violators on our highways and to apply strict enforcement to those motorists who are traveling at dangerous speeds or in a careless manner," said Col. Michael Gilchrist, the N.C. Highway Patrol commander. "Speed is the No. 1 factor in fatal collisions."

Otherwise, here's what you can expect on your holiday travels this weekend:

Gas prices -- North Carolina: The state fuel tax increased 2.5 cents today, but prices are still about 25 cents lower than during the Memorial Day holiday weekend. According to AAA Carolinas, motorists can expect to pay an average of $3.55 a gallon in Charlotte, with prices a bit cheaper in the mountains and at the beaches.

Gas prices -- South Carolina: With a much lower fuel tax, the Palmetto State's gas prices are among the lowest in the nation. The state average, according to AAA, is $3.29 a gallon. That compares to $3.54 a gallon nationally.

Highway construction: All road projects in the Carolinas will be suspended at 4 p.m. today until Tuesday morning. The N.C. Department of Transportation notes two exceptions -- U.S. 17 in Bertie County, and N.C. 131 near Dublin in Bladen County. In the Charlotte region, no construction work is scheduled.

Flying? About 70,000 Carolinas residents are expected to travel by air this July 4 weekend. That's up 19 percent in North Carolina and 17 percent in South Carolina from last Independence Day. That is despite an 11 percent increase in average air fares over the past year.

Hotels: High occupancy rates are being reported up and down the Carolinas coast, and in the popular mountain areas. Hotel prices are up 13 percent over a year ago, but hotel bookings have increased 12 percent over last July 4 weekend.

The N.C. Department of Transportation offers these tips to motorists:

-- Don't rush. "Jack-rabbit" starts and quick stops can increase fuel consumption by 40 percent, yet reduce travel time by only four percent.

-- Observe the speed limit. Not exceeding 60 mph on interstate highways can improve mileage by 7 to 23 percent.

-- Use cruise control. That can save 60 gallons of fuel (about $200) over 10,000 miles of travel, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

-- Remove the junk. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle can reduce gas mileage by up to two percent. Luggage racks, rooftop carriers and ski racks also lower mileage, so leave them home if not needed.

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