CONCORD, N.H. — Under new laws taking effect with the start of the new year, people can drive faster along a rural section of Interstate 93 in New Hampshire and drink an hour later at local bars with the community's OK.
Lawmakers raised the speed limit on the state's main north-south highway to 70 mph from mile marker 45 between Exits 17 and 18 in Canterbury to the Vermont border. There's an exception: the stretch through Franconia Notch.
"It's great that they can get here faster, and once they get here they need to slow down and enjoy themselves," said Jayne O'Connor, president of White Mountain Attractions in North Woodstock.
Assistant Safety Commissioner Earl Sweeney hopes drivers will take into account that the North Country experiences some of the worst winter driving conditions in the state.
"The difference it would make for someone traveling a distance of 100 miles at 70 miles per hour versus 65 miles per hour is they would complete their trip about six minutes sooner and consume more fuel while doing it. Is it worth it just to save those six minutes?" he said in an email.
O'Connor thinks people will decide how fast to drive based on safety and road conditions.
Lawmakers also gave communities the option of letting bars push back last call from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. in another law taking effect on Wednesday, New Year's Day.
"For bars that do a lot of business seasonally, it really helps their business to stay open a little later," said state Rep. Mark Warden, the Manchester Republican who sponsored the law.
But Sweeney said it could lead to "border hopping" by people in nearby communities who want to keep drinking going from place to place. Sweeney said the later closings could mean more bar fights and drunk drivers.
Other laws taking effect Wednesday:
— Restrict the phosphorous and nitrogen content in fertilizer applied to residential lawns. Ted Diers, administrator of the state's watershed management bureau, said consumers shouldn't notice the difference with products currently on store shelves. The change is to reduce runoff of excess chemicals into state waters. What lawns don't absorb is shed, he said. The key is for homeowners to follow directions on the label to get the best result, he said.
"Lawns can't get any greener than green," he said.
— Limit the liability a homeowner would have if a firefighter suffered an incidental injury while responding to a call. The law is in response to a state Supreme Court ruling in favor of a volunteer firefighter who sued a homeowner after being seriously injured from falling on snow and ice in the driveway. The Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire supported limiting the liability, said David Lang, the group's president.
"We were concerned the (court) decision may have a chilling effect on people's willingness to call and activate the 911 system," Lang said.
He said homeowners won't be protected from purposeful negligence.
— Require children up to age 7 to use a child safety restraint in a vehicle unless they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall. That is a year older and 2 inches taller than current law. The change brings New Hampshire into compliance with the majority of states, meaning less likelihood of a New Hampshire driver being ticketed in another state, Sweeney said.
— Require criminal background checks for workers at youth skill camps. Sweeney said the change closes a loophole in the laws requiring people who work with children to undergo the checks. The new law will require owners, employees and volunteers who may be left alone with children at summer sports, science, art and other camps to have the checks, which have long been required for teachers, coaches, volunteers and others at schools.
— Add writing a text message while operating a moving commercial vehicle to the list of serious motor vehicle violations that can cause license suspension. The law makes other changes to the commercial vehicle laws to help assure New Hampshire continues to be eligible for federal safety funds.