MINOT, N.D. — "Maybe safe ride homes, and not tougher penalties, are a better solution for drunk driving."
That's a headline to something I wrote way back in 2015. "What’s our goal when it comes to DUI laws? Is it putting drinkers in jail, or is it keeping roads safe?" I asked back then.
Obviously, it's the latter, but much of our public policy around drunk driving laws is organized around the former.
So it's gratifying to see, nearly six years after I wrote that post, that the state of North Dakota has announced a policy focused on getting people home safely from their nights out on the town, as opposed to putting them in jail.
"In an effort to cut down on drunken driving, the North Dakota Department of Transportation announced Tuesday, March 2, it will offer $10 ride vouchers to impaired residents looking to get home safely," Jeremy Turley reports.
Using one of these vouchers is easy. You just use the code "NDSoberRide" when hailing a driver through the Lyft app. The code started working yesterday, March 2, and will be functional until the end of the month. In my experience, $10 will pay for all, or at least most, of the cost of a ride across any given North Dakota town.
Unfortunately, this program is only of benefit to those North Dakotans who live in communities served by Lyft. According to the company's website, that's Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck, and Dickinson right now, though I can say that I've used Lyft in Minot too. I checked the app this morning and there were rides available.
Still, it's a good start.
The vouchers are being funded by a grant from AAA, but this approach to safe roads is something worth spending public dollars on.
Law enforcement agencies across the state frequently fund intense enforcement efforts aimed at catching drunk drivers. Everything from saturation patrols to checkpoints. If we took some of the millions we spend every year on those efforts and directed them to programs like these, focused on getting people home safely, I believe the net impact would be safer roads and fewer people caught up in the criminal justice system.
That would be a big, big win for public policy.
Such a program would need to be more expansive, including more ride services in more communities, and it would need to operate year-round as well. We may not be able to reach all parts of the state, because many of our rural areas simply do not and will not have taxi services operating. Even in those communities, though, we could perhaps fund volunteer programs run through local civic organizations to make sober drivers available.
It's an idea worthy of more explanation.
We're always going to need DUI enforcement because some people will choose to behave irresponsibly even when good choices are put right in front of them. Years ago I chose to drive drunk. I got pulled over, arrested and was convicted of driving under the influence.
I took my lumps then, and I deserved every one of them.
But if we could promote policy that's built around road safety, and not the prohibitionist puritanism embraced by the throw-the-book-at-'em crowd, we'd be doing ourselves a favor.
Kudos to Gov. Doug Burgum's administration for embracing this initiative.
Let's do more of it.
To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.