Update: In September 2010, Scott Judd passed away in a road accident. The company has suspended business.
In the midst of the holiday season, parties abound. Revelers indulge in hors d’oeuvres, drinks, presents, sing-alongs, and other festive fun. But what happens after those holiday parties isn’t so jolly a scene.
Each year more than 1,000 people across the US die between Thanksgiving and New Year’s in drunk driving crashes. Last year, those killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes accounted for nearly one-third of all traffic-related deaths in the US.
Like every president since 1981, President Obama proclaimed December National Impaired Driving Prevention Month [PDF]. Part of the prevention effort, which is in effect until January 3, involves police expanding their efforts to stop and arrest impaired drivers. According to the proclamation, President Obama says drunk drivers aren’t the only problem. “Although we have succeeded in decreasing the number of drunk drivers in recent years, we have seen a disturbing increase in Americans driving under the influence of drugs. Operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs poses the same risks as drunk driving, and we must do more to stop this growing epidemic.”
Whatever your pleasure — alcohol or drugs — there are a number of ways to ensure you won’t drive under the influence. You can take a taxi, ride with a sober driver, sleep over at your host’s house, stay home and skip the party altogether, or, another option: Take a designated driver service that brings both you and your car home.
One service, DWI Ride Home of Minnesota, is a Twin Cities-based non-profit organization that began in August 2007. According to Scott Judd, operator of DWI Ride Home, this type of service is a growing trend. “When we first started, there were 69 companies doing this across the United States; now there’s probably closer to 700, in only a few years.”
To schedule a ride, you can either call ahead to set up an appointment or you can call spur-of-the moment when you’re ready to go. If you’re traveling within 15 miles, rides cost $30, and every additional mile costs $2.50.
The Heavy Table scheduled an appointment for a Thursday night, hitching a ride from South Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, which was just under the 15-mile cap. Most of the company’s customers are within that range. “We’ve taken 18,000 people off the road since August of ’07,” Judd says. “We’ve discovered that 95 percent of them are within a 15-mile radius of the bar.” And compared to a cab service, DWI Ride Home offers an additional advantage. “If a cab takes you home and they have a speedy delivery, it averages out to be about $2 a mile. If we go $30 for the first 15 miles, it’s still the same price as a cab, but you get your car home.”
Some rides are brief and routine, while others can be long and involved. “We’ve had people call us that have taken a boat up to Stillwater, wanting us to pick their car up from their boat landing and take it home to their house in St. Louis Park and pick them up later,” says Judd. “They don’t want their car sitting there.” Rides can also be absurd, even reaching reality TV show caliber, according to Judd. “One of our clients ate a whole Pizza Luce pizza while lying in the street on Fourth Street in Minneapolis. His pizza was completely submerged in water from the curb drain. Didn’t slow him down a bit,” says Judd. “We’re somewhere between Taxicab Confessions and Girls Gone Wild. It is insane.”
When our ride arrived at the bar, two employees pulled up in one vehicle, then one hopped out and drove us home in our own car while the other driver followed. It was a safe, event-free ride despite the slippery, snowy conditions, and our driver was friendly and conscientious. However, they were an hour late to pick us up. Judd says that’s a rare occurrence. “If they’re taking dispatched runs, they’re expected to get there as soon as they can,” says Judd. “If we do 100 runs, maybe one or two might be 15 to 20 minutes late.”
But occasionally — like in our case — intoxicated riders can derail the service’s timely plan and make the drivers late for their next pickup. “The dynamics of people when they’re drunk? Oh my God,” says Judd. “Getting them out of the bar is the first order of business, then getting them into the car without throwing up and screaming and fighting…”
DWI Ride Home often deals with a high volume of intoxicated riders. “Sometimes we’ll field hundreds of calls on weekends and for special events. It’s absolute chaos,” says Judd. As you’d expect, it’s busiest during the holidays. The company’s third busiest day is St. Patrick’s Day, the second busiest is the day before Thanksgiving, and the busiest is New Year’s Eve — “the Super Bowl of this industry” — according to Judd. And the busyness isn’t the only thing that makes holidays hectic. “Holidays are what we call ‘amateur night’ because a lot of people that don’t normally go out are going out. So they’re not really used to the drinking, they’re not used to the timing of what they want to do. They get drunker than they thought. You never know what you’ll get until you get there.”
No matter what they encounter, Judd and his employees take their responsibility seriously. Before they can begin driving solo, new drivers train with a veteran driver for up to a month, during which they’re often put to the test. “We’ll let them drive a customer and see how they handle it. If they just come out of there pulling their hair out, then it’s really not for them,” says Judd. “But we do have protocol in place for riders who get hostile because they’d had too many drinks.” In these situations, drivers can push a call button on their phone to call the police, or they can drive to a gas station and hand the keys over to the cashier. “We never give the keys back to the customer, ever,” says Judd. “They’re vulnerable adults and at that point they’re in our care until we get done with the run. We can never, ever, ever give their keys back, even in the worst possible scenario.”
So after this year’s indulgent holiday party, keep in mind that there are always good options to get yourself (and even your car) home safely. “We take your car home — don’t worry about your car. That seems to be the governing force behind people driving,” says Judd. “Who wants to come back and get their car the next day? Nobody wants to do it, and I understand.”
DWI Ride Home of Minnesota
Twin Cities-based designated driver service
COST: $30 within 15 miles; $2.50 for every additional mile
HOURS: 24 hours a day