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SMART RIDE a sober cab program in a rural county

A blueprint for other counties


Rice County, Minnesota wants to lower the incidences of impaired driving in their county. Unfortunately, the county has been on the state’s list of the 13 deadliest counties for many years and in 2012 the county has finally moved off that list. One reason for that is an ongoing award winning collaboration of seven law enforcement agencies in Rice County called the MOD Squad (Modifying Unsafe Driver Behavior – One traffic stop at a time) who work together on saturation patrols throughout the year to keep impaired drivers off the road. They also work with the Rice County Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) Safe Roads Coalition on public awareness and education programs. But the best program is one that prevents people from driving after drinking. Since rural areas do not have mass transit the next best thing would be a sober cab program. Programs such as these need the cooperation from government agencies and private business to succeed. The idea for the Sober Cab was spearheaded by the Safe Roads Coalition to start first in Northfield/Dundas in the summer of 2012 and launched in Faribault just in time for St. Patrick’s Day 2013.

The program is called SMART RIDE. A task force was formed to create the program that included College City Beverage, the local alcohol distributor; First Choice Shuttle, a local cab company operating throughout the county; the Rice County Attorney’s office, the City Councils of Northfield and Faribault, as well as the Northfield and Faribault Police Chiefs, and several liquor establishments.

Voucher given to the patrons

Local bars participating in the program give patrons who are not safe to drive a free overnight parking permit and a complimentary voucher for a $5 sober cab ride home within the city limits. The bar pays $2 of the $5, College City Beverage pays $2 and one dollar comes from a DWI forfeiture fund set up by police departments, the County Sheriff and County Attorney. This program does not provide a free ride to everyone in the bar; it is at the discretion of the bartenders. Patrons who are not given the voucher by the bar can chose to pay the $5 themselves to get a safe ride home and still use a parking voucher if needed. The shuttle provides service to all of rural Rice and Steele Counties. When traveling outside the city limits; there is a per mile charge which the patron must pay.

This program started the summer of 2012 and it has been very successful even with people who pay the $5 themselves. Last September at Northfield’s Jesse James Days, the Smart Ride shuttles were packed. People were happy to wait in lines to get a safe, cheap ride home. There were no alcohol incidents during that four-day festival. The program is available 24/7 and law enforcement is seeing more and more cars left at bars to be picked up in the morning when there is a sober driver. As of March 2013, seventeen (17) local liquor establishments have joined the program.
For more information on starting a program in your area contact kathy.cooper0215@gmail.com

The article above is about the Sober Cab program in Rice County  The websites below tell you about three other programs that are in Minnesota