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Law enforcement ups effort during holiday season

Safe Rides program again offering free taxis on New Year's

Posted: December 24, 2013 - 1:02am

Law enforcement authorities are ramping up efforts to keep drunk drivers off the roads as the Holiday season enters full swing.

The Juneau Police Department will double its patrols some evenings in order to keep roads safe.

“We have two teams that overlap during the busiest times,” said JPD Lt. Dave Campbell. “Anywhere from 8-12 people will be working during that time. That’s quite a bit for Juneau.”

Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Beth Ipsen said troopers also will be on the lookout statewide. She said it’s not that troopers want to be a Grinch and keep people from having fun during the holiday season, but with more people driving on the roads there’s a greater need to ensure safety.

“We may have more troopers on the road, or extra days troopers will be working and looking for distracted drivers,” she said. “Accidents can happen at any time. We don’t want to be a downer, you should go out and enjoy the holidays, but do it in a safe manner.”

Both Campbell and Ipsen have advice for anyone who might decide to enjoy a cup of eggnog, or two, or three, or ...

“If you have anything to drink, don’t risk it,” Campbell said. “The issue with driving while intoxicated is there’s so much at stake.”

He said one reason intoxicated individuals might get behind the wheel is because they’ve conducted a personal assessment of their own sobriety. The problem with that, he said, is drinking changes their perspective. A person might compare their current state of sobriety against their drunkest state, and just because a person feels sober compared to before doesn’t mean they’re under the legal limit.

Campbell used an analogy where someone who might blow a .2 blood alcohol level when they’re drunk may believe they’re sober after a while when, in fact, their blood alcohol level could still be a .1 or higher.”

“Trying to assess yourself is a very dangerous game to play,” he said.

Ipsen advises people to save phone numbers of designated drivers or taxi services in their phones ahead of time.

“Have it saved in there already in case you forget later,” she said. “The biggest thing is to plan ahead.”

One Juneau group is already planning ahead for those hitting the bar scene on New Year’s Eve.

The Juneau/Lynn Canal Alcohol Beverage Retailers Association/CHARR will again hold its Safe Ride Home program from 9 p.m. on Dec. 31 until 3 a.m. on Jan. 1.

Since 2005 the program has provided more than 5,000 taxi rides to Juneau residents at no cost. The group itself spends about $6,000 every time the program is held, but according to CHARR members, it’s money well spent to ensure people make it home safely.

“It’s been a raving success and its made a big difference for people entertaining themselves on New Year’s Eve,” said Juneau CHARR President Jack Manning. “DUIs (on New Year’s Eve) have just about disappeared in the last few years.”

Program coordinator LeAnne Thomas, owner of the Triangle Club, said 14 locations are participating this year. She said anyone planning on hitting the bars on New Year’s Eve should look for the group’s poster at participating bars. Then, they need only to ask their bartender to call a cab and one should arrive within 30 minutes.

Along with the majority of downtown bars, the Island Pub in Douglas and Marlintini’s and McGivney’s in the valley are also participating in the Safe Rides Home program.

CHARR taxis are marked with either a sticker in the window or a metallic decal on the side. There will be 25 taxis offering free rides. In the future, Thomas said she’d like to expand the program to include buses for those who live on the bus line.

The Safe Rides program is made possible through contributions by participating bars, CHARR fundraisers and several other sponsors such as Alaskan Brewing, Odom Corporation, KNL Distributors and Specialty Imports.

Thomas asks that individuals who plan to use Safe Ride taxis be patient, as taxis are usually filled up and will need to make multiple stops. And as the night goes on, she said, cabs fill up quickly.

“If you want to make sure you get one of the first cabs, it’s good to leave the bar a little before it closes,” she said.

Thomas’ brother and fellow CHARR member, Paul, believes the program has been a “good return to the community” and, in his opinion, has cut down on the number of DUIs.

Both LeAnne and Paul Thomas emphasized the same message to their fellow residents.

“Drink responsibly. Drive Responsibly.”

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