Those busted for drunk driving, heading home on New Year's Eve, will face new, stiffer penalties under Nebraska law.
Among the changes, procuring alcohol for a minor becomes a felony if there's a fatal crash involved. And first-time D.U.I. offenders would either have their license revoked for several months or, if they qualify, be allowed to drive only with an ignition interlock device.
"I think the message is that no drinking and driving will be tolerated by the law. The legislature's enacted stiff penalties to punish those people," said Sarpy County Judge Jeffrey Funke.
Funke told Channel 6 News he hopes the law makes a dent in the repeat offenders which appear so often before him.
Omaha Police Sergeant Tony Gutierrez said the changes won't impact patrols immediately. But within a month or so, they'll begin to see those first offenders who are required to use the ignition interlock.
"What we want people to understand," he said, "is if you say, drive a friend's car and you're required to have an interlock device, and you drive a car without one, you could be charged with a Class IV felony."
Funke added, there are enhanced penalties for repeat offenders including ankle bracelets for third time offenders or higher. The bracelets monitor blood alcohol level and notifies the court if an offender is in violation.
Drinking and driving with children, 16 or younger, becomes an offense for the first time - a misdemeanor. "It encourages people not to put their children at risk," Funke said.
He and others in the judicial system have a 10-page cheat sheet on the changes. "It's challenging for judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys," he said of all the changes that come down to the unicameral each year.
"But I think the changes are necessary to address the problems sooner, to make a bigger impact right away."
Gutierrez added, "We're hoping that we have safer drivers on the road. That's the long-term goal. Time will tell if that's what actually takes place."
Omaha police will be out in greater numbers from 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday morning, along with other area law enforcement agencies. Grant money pays for the overtime.
But there is a safer alternative for those celebrating the new year this weekend. The Hauptman, O'Brien, Wolf and Lathrop law firm is once again offering a free, "Safe Ride Home." People in Douglas or Sarpy counties can call 402-339-8294, and Happy Cab will give them a ride home.