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The DUI hangover from St. Patrick's Day -- and how to avoid it

Revelers from Boston to San Francisco will be sporting the green for St. Patrick's Day, trading Irish jokes and celebrating the day that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. With partygoers hitting the parades and the pubs -- and throwing back a pint or two -- cops will be keeping their eyes peeled for tipsy drivers.

Law enforcement authorities offer this St. Patrick's advice: Don't push your "luck o' the Irish" by driving drunk. If you do, your legal and financial hangover could last well past St. Patrick's Day.

If you're caught drinking and driving in Colorado, for instance, you’ll breathe into a straw -- and you’ll pay through the nose.

For a driver age 21 to 24 who's hit with a DUI, the extra auto insurance costs total about $5,000 over a five-year period, says Heather Halpape, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation. But when you add court fees, penalties, fines and related expenses, that figure rises to $10,300 for a single DUI.

“It’s no secret that it is a tradition for many to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with alcohol, but we don’t want that celebration to spill over behind the wheel,” says Pam Hutton, the governor’s representative for highway safety at the Colorado Department of Transportation.

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“Many people don’t realize the costs involved if you drink and drive. First and foremost is the possible cost of a human life, but there are also major monetary expenses," Hutton says. "It’s not worth it.”

The costs of DUI

Lou Shapiro, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in DUI cases, says your auto insurance rates certainly will go up if you've got a DUI on your record. If you're involved in an auto accident while driving drunk, your rates will spike even more, he says.

"You can hire a DUI insurance specialist to tell your insurer that you will go to another provider if they raise rates. The fact is, first-time DUI offenders can turn out to be the safest drivers -- they're scared straight," Shapiro says.

Aside from higher auto insurance premiums, DUI-related expenses can include:

• Criminal fines.

• Court costs.

• Bail. "That can be as much as $3,000 if you use a company like a bail bondsman, and they will keep that fee," Shapiro says.

• Attorney's fees. Those fees easily could add up to several thousand dollars, Shapiro says.

• Car towing and impoundment. Your car can be impounded immediately if your blood-alcohol level measures 0.08 or more.

• Loss of employment.

• Temporary loss of income.

• DUI classes. In California, the cost of a DUI class can run as high as $500, according to Shapiro.

• Periodic blood testing.

• Car ignition locking devices. In California, one of those devices costs about $350, according to Shapiro.

(To check out your state's rules and regulations about drunken driving, visit the Governors Highway Safety Association's website.)

On the DUI beat in Boston

In 2010, Colorado authorities made 686 DUI arrests during St. Patrick’s week -- 93 of them in Denver alone. Halpape says that’s significantly above an average week of DUI arrests during the rest of the year.

The cops -- and the handcuffs -- also are out in full force about 2,500 miles east in Boston, home to one of the biggest St. Patrick's Day bashes in the country. In Massachusetts, police are ultra-vigilant about enforcing DUI laws during St. Patrick’s week, Boston criminal defense attorney Michael Delsignore says.

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“For any big holiday event, police will bulk up on enforcement,” Delsignore says. “But St. Patrick’s week can really heighten the chances of getting arrested. Police around here will walk up to your car assuming you’re under the influence.”

On average, a first-time DUI offender in the United States can expect to see his auto insurance rates rise by up to $6,000 a year, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Delsignore says the second or third offense "really puts you in the risk pool."

“For a second offense, you can triple that (MADD) figure,” Delsignore says. “Rates vary from company to company, but you really pay a price for a second offense -- and for a third offense you’ll be taken off the road.”

Taking drunken drivers off the road is the goal of a St. Patrick's Day campaign in Sacramento, Calif. Sacramento casts a citywide DUI enforcement net dubbed “Avoid the 17" -- meaning 17 state and local agencies are on the lookout for DUI offenders.

Around St. Patrick's Day, “we’ll have a weeklong checkpoints and saturation patrol,” says Laurie Peck, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento Police Department. “Every year, we hope the public gets the message, but every year we’ve learned to wait and see.”

The ABC's of avoiding a DUI

Unfortunately, law enforcement authorities everywhere must wait and see how many drunken driving accidents and deaths occur around St. Patrick's Day.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 37 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes on St. Patrick's Day 2008 had blood-alcohol levels of 0.08 or higher. The agency says 134 traffic deaths occurred nationwide on St. Patrick’s Day 2008.

To avoid being one of those statistics, Derry, N.H.-based Brownwell Insurance Center offers these tips:

• Plan a safe way home before the festivities begin.

• Before drinking, designate a sober driver and leave your car keys at home.

• If you’re drunk, use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member, or take public transportation.

• If you spot a drunken driver on the road, contact local law enforcement.

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