Drunk drivers need taxi vouchers

The number of people killed by drunk drivers rose last year for the first time in more than six years. Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, Students Against Drunk Driving, harsh legal consequences and a national campaign to make driving drunk taboo has not significantly reduced the occurrence of this preventable tragedy.

Fortunately, the Jefferson County Tavern League in Jefferson, Wisc., has taken a progressive step to decrease drunk driving. In a program funded by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, all tavern league members will receive taxi vouchers to give to intoxicated patrons. Bartenders will give the vouchers only to patrons who have driven to the bar and agree to leave their vehicles at the bar, on the street or have it driven home by a sober friend. Police officers and county sheriffs will pass out vouchers on the street to obviously intoxicated people.

A few flaws mar the program, such as the ambiguity of determining who is intoxicated enough to warrant a voucher, who is a driver and who just wants a free ride home. These problems will hinder proper distribution of the vouchers. However, as long as the patrons who need them most are able to easily obtain them, the system will be effective. Bartenders should have no fear of being too generous with vouchers because they have already been paid for by the state, not the bar’s owner. Any noticeably intoxicated person should receive a voucher, regardless of where their drinks were purchased.

The program’s cost could deter other cities from joining the effort, but the benefits to the community outweigh the cost. Taxpayers finance the transportation department, in addition to the police, the city morgue, the public defender’s office and all the civil service organizations that come into play when a drunk driver injures or kills someone. Much less suffering will occur if the public finances preventive measures such as vouchers instead of picking up the tab for the aftermath.

And most importantly, the program will save lives. People will use it. Too many individuals drive drunk simply because they do not want to pay for alternative transportation. As vouchers increase in popularity, the roads will become safer. It’s taboo and dangerous to drive drunk, and people deserve a safe and convenient alternative. If the designated driver has one drink too many, the party can still get home safe.

Jefferson County, Wisc., is making its community safer. Other counties, cities and states should watch closely and follow suit in a proactive effort to make their streets safer after a night on the town.