A Columbia-based taxi service will offer tipsy bar and restaurant patrons in Howard County free rides home New Year's Eve.
Police and others hope Columbia Cab's holiday program will mark the beginning of a larger effort involving county businesses to prevent drunken driving in Howard County during future holiday seasons.
County police and the Howard County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving have teamed up with Columbia Cab to promote the program.
"We see this as the start of a much larger program next year," said Bonnie Cook, a spokeswoman for the county MADD chapter. Ms. Cook said the MADD chapter also hopes to interest participating businesses in having the program run from Thanksgiving until Jan. 2.
There is already some interest from other businesses. For example, Howard County Express Cab, based in Ellicott City, plans to participate in the program next year.
Last year, Columbia Cab decided in late December to offer the free ride service on New Year's Eve. But since police and the county's MADD chapter did not have enough time to help promote it, it was canceled.
This year, police, MADD and county government agencies had time to develop a promotional campaign.
County police and the MADD chapter created a poster and fliers with the logo, "Cabs or Cops," explaining how the service will work and the taxi company's telephone numbers. They also arranged with local media to publicize the service through free advertisements that have appeared over the last two weeks.
The posters and fliers were mailed and hand-delivered to about 140 establishments licensed to serve liquor in the county, Ms. Cook said.
"Since this is the first time this has been tried in the county, it will be a learning experience," said Sgt. Glenn Hansen, supervisor of the traffic enforcement section for Howard County Police.
"We are trying to do something positive to eliminate drunk driving rather than always relying on negatives like arresting drivers. We want people to be aware there are positive alternatives to getting behind the wheel drunk. You can have designated drivers, drink at home or stay at the place where you are partying, or call a cab."
Columbia Cab says the New Year's Eve ride program for drunk drivers will work this way:
* The free ride is good only with in county boundaries.
* The program is good Dec. 31 all day and night and will end Jan. 1 after bars close, police said.
* A restaurant or bar which has a patron who is unfit to drive home must have an employee call the cab company and request the service.
"The restaurants and bars are probably the best people to judge if someone is drunk," said Ms. Cook. "Of course if someone thinks they shouldn't drive they should request that the bar or restaurant call the cab company for them."
Police plan patrols assigned to arrest drunken drivers on New Year's Eve. That effort is part of the department's holiday drunken driving enforcement program which started the day before Thanksgiving, said Sergeant Hansen.
Thirty-seven drivers have been charged since then with a drunk-driving-related offense, he said. He expects that statistic to be higher after the holiday since not all reports have been filed yet.
County police plan to target roads that have higher than average alcohol-related collisions, said Sergeant Hansen. Those roads include U.S. 1, parts of U.S. 40, and Route 175.
In Howard County, so far this year there have been 16 fatal car accidents, resulting in 17 deaths. Six of those were alcohol-related, police said.
Columbia Cab will offer its free ride home service New Year's Eve. The free fare is good only within the county. Columbia Cab's phone numbers are: (301) 604-5800 and (410) 880-6916.