Sober ride program expands in its second yearPublished 11:27am Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Otter Tail County ranked No. 13 on the list of Minnesota’s top 13 dangerous drunk driving counties. But a group within the county is continuing efforts to offer people sober rides home after a night out.
Joyride, a sober-ride program started by the Safe Communities Coalition of Otter Tail County, is expanding for the second year, after success during its inaugural run last summer where it provided roughly 450 rides and averaged about 30 to 35 rides per weekend, according to Jane Patrick, of the Safe Communities Coalition.
“It’s right about what we expected,” Patrick said. “We were really pleased with that. I think it’s a great start, where you get people using it regularly.”
Joyride targets rural areas that have no late-night public transit options, no taxi service, limited or unreliable taxi service.
While safety is the driving force in these programs, with some communities reporting 50 percent reduction in DWIs after offering sober rides home, Joyride wants to be seen as fun and easy for patrons.
There are almost no other options in rural areas. A recent study from the University of Florida found that 40 percent of designated drivers drank alcohol prior to giving “sober rides home.”
Locally, Joyride began with a widely-attended meeting of elected officials, law enforcement, coalition members, and bar and restaurant managers. The goal was to gauge interest and start collecting information about what would be needed to make Joyride a successful program.
“The response was so positive at that first meeting that we had to find more chairs and sit really close to one another to fit in the room,” Patrick said. “We finished that meeting feeling very optimistic but aware of how difficult these programs are to operate.”
For its first round, Joyride started Memorial Day weekend and ran through Labor Day weekend. Anderson Bus Service of Frazee provided rides from 10:30 p.m. to closing at Whiskey River, The Brew, The Otter and Thumper Pond. The cost to the rider is $7.
“It just takes people pretty much where they need to go,” Patrick said. “When people need a ride, then the bartenders call and arrange for the pick-up for the customers.”
The establishments paid an initial fee, while the program was given generous donations from the H. Boyd Nelson, DS Beverage, Otter Tail County Tourism Association, city of Battle Lake and the Battle Lake Lions.
To kick off round two, Joyride will operate in Perham, Battle Lake and Ottertail starting Nov. 1 for Halloween celebrations. It will also run the Wednesday before and the Friday after Thanksgiving, New Years Eve, and then fishing opener through Labor Day weekend.
The committee is recruiting additional establishments to participate. All area bars and restaurants have been contacted by the committee and asked to be a Joyride-participating establishment. Recruiting will continue throughout the year and all are welcome.
Lots of establishments are interested, though some are only open during the summer months, like Zorbaz, Patrick said. They’ll have more places on board by the time next summer rolls around.
The feedback has been positive based on surveys of community representatives, police officers and public health officials.
“For the people that don’t plan ahead for rides, it gives them the ability to get home safely,” said Lt. Terry Eldien, of the Fergus Falls Police Department. “Four-hundred and some rides is a success because that is potentially removing those drivers from the roadway.”
Otter Tail County Sheriff Brian Schlueter agreed.
“Any time you can put a sober driver behind the wheel… that’s a great program,” Schlueter said.
It’s too early to tell yet how the program might have affected the amount of DWIs issued in the county, since it was the first summer of the program.
“There’s just a lot of people out there that don’t know about it,” Patrick said. “I would say by the end of next summer, we’ll have a much better idea of how it’s helping with DWIs.”
The Safe Communities Coalition of Otter Tail County’s focus is on making the roads safer by promoting seat belt use, sober driving, attentive driving and responsible hosting. Formed in 2005, the coalition is made up of law enforcement, public health, businesses, the judicial system and concerned citizens.