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drink n drive

Tis the season to slow down Santa Claus had better watch out or he'll be looking at a hefty speeding ticket as he drops toys and goodies this Christmas. Fines for drivers exceeding the speed limit have changed to an escalating program of fines depending on where and how fast the vehicle is going. The new system took effect Dec. 15. Going 1-20 kilometres an hour over the speed limit on highways or in town will earn a $115 ticket, but 21-40 km/h over the limit is worth a $173 fine, 41-60 km/h over the limit zooms to a $345 fine, and any speed 61 km/h over the speed limit gets the driver a $460 ticket. Similar amounts apply for speeding in school or construction zones, except the "escalator" starts at $173, building in 20 km/h increments to $230, $345 and $460 fines. The new amounts include a 15 per cent victim surcharge levy that is distributed to victim-serving agencies throughout B.C. Speeding and dangerous driving are seen as the largest contributors to ICBC claims costs — $550 million in 1995. In that year, unsafe speed was a factor in 10,546 crashes, 8,111 injuries and 184 fatalities. You can dispute the ticket in court. Fines do not increase for repeat offenders and there are no changes to the penalty points scale. There's a good reason to drive at the posted speed. Police are reporting a busy time as vehicles slide into ditches or bang into each other. Even Whistler Transit has had a time of it. Three buses were temporarily out of commission this week in the aftermath of a snow dump as they either failed to operate or collided with other vehicles. But police aren't just watching for speeders. It's also anti-drinking and driving time as police step up the frequency of road-side checks. They are on the road now and will be until Jan. 3. Since 1977, a combination of enforcement and public education have convinced a lot of people that drinking and driving isn't worth the risk. Statistics Canada reports that the number of people charged with an impaired driving offence in Canada fell for the 13th straight year. Even so, 8,800 people in B.C. were tagged for impaired driving offences in 1996. Whistlerites now have late-night buses to help make the "leave the car at home" decision easier. Buses run to about 3 a.m. every night. Penalties for drinking and driving can be harsh. A first offence means losing your licence for a year, a fine up to $2,000 and possibly six months in jail, or up to five years if the Crown wants to throw the book at you. A second conviction will put you in jail immediately for 14 days to one year. Hurt someone in the act of being a drunk driver and you're looking at a maximum 10-year sentence and up to a 10-year driving prohibition.