New Year’s Eve — and the holiday season in general — is a time for gathering with friends and family, but it is also one of the deadliest and most dangerous times of the year because of the increase in the number of people driving under the influence of alcohol.

The simple solution to reduce drunk driving is to plan ahead, according to Mindy Murray of the Region 2 Prevention Resource Center in Abilene.

“Designate a non-drinking driver beforehand or call a taxi to pick you up at the end of the night,” she said.

Driving while intoxicated in Texas carries tough penalties, she added. A first time DWI offense is a Class B misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $2,000, license suspension for 90 days to one year, and 72 hours to 180 days of jail time.

Upon a second offense, which is a Class A misdemeanor, the fine can increase up to $4,000 with a jail stay of 30 days to one year and a suspension of license for 180 days to two years.

A 3rd degree felony conviction awaits third time DWI offenders. This brings fines of up to $10,000, 180 days to two years of license suspension and 2 to 10 years in jail.

If an accident results, the intoxicated driver could face conviction for intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter.

In addition to these penalties, license surcharges are also collected for DWI convictions. A surcharge of $1,000 per year is levied for first convictions throughout a 36-month period, and an additional $1,500 per year for subsequent convictions within this three-year period.

Individuals with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .16 or greater at the time of test are charged $2,000 on each first or subsequent conviction.

Refusing to take a blood-alcohol or breath test when stopped by law enforcement can bring an automatic 180-day license suspension.

Murray urged hosts of parties to be responsible with their drinks, setting limits on drinking and providing alternatives to alcoholic beverages. Those can include alcohol-free egg nog, hot cider or sparkling juice.

“Drinking and driving is serious business,” Murray said. “So, before you get behind the wheel, make a plan to keep yourself and others on the road safe.”

New Year’s Day brings to a close a time of year that brings tragedy to many families, Murray said. It is estimated that close to 2,000 people are killed across the U.S. in automobile crashes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

The Region 2 Prevention Resource Center is a service of the Abilene Regional Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Inc.