- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007

Community groups, businesses and law-enforcement agencies across the region are joining together to keep drivers safe tonight as they return home from celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at local pubs and parties.

“No matter how good your prevention programs are, you need some kind of safety valve in place for these high-risk, high-alcohol abuse holidays,” said Kurt Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP). The public-private coalition formed to prevent alcohol abuse has organized its annual SoberRide program started in 1993 to offer rides home.

Under the program, people who call 800/200-TAXI between 4 p.m. tonight and 6 a.m. tomorrow can get a free cab ride for fares up to $50.

Last year, 580 persons took advantage of the rides, Mr. Erickson said.

Local police plan to step up patrols to target those who might drink and drive.

In the District, Metropolitan Police officials will deploy chemical-analysis testing vans that look like Winnebagos to roadside checkpoints to perform on-site intoxication tests, while saturation patrols monitor roads around areas with a large number of restaurants and bars.

“It’s not just a slap on the wrist anymore,” Inspector Patrick Burke said of drunken-driving arrests. “You are handcuffed, taken to a station and fingerprinted. Your pictures are taken, and you spend a little time in a facility until facing the judge and charges.”

Inspector Burke said the department’s goal is not to arrest everyone but to stop impaired motorists from driving. Police also distributed information about SoberRide to restaurants and bars in the District so that employees can pass the information to holiday customers.

Employees of Martin’s Tavern, at Wisconsin Avenue and N Street Northwest, hung SoberRide fliers in their windows and left SoberRide business cards at the bar.

“We want to make sure every single one of our customers is safe,” said Chrissy Gardner, the tavern’s marketing director.

The SoberRide number is answered by an operator at the program’s call center. Operators take requests and route them to the caller’s local cab company.

Drivers who pick up a SoberRide fare fill out vouchers and turn them in to their cab company. The companies pay the drivers up front, and SoberRide reimburses the companies with money from its national and local sponsors.

Nine taxicab companies are participating in this year’s SoberRide. Alexandria Yellow Cab has been involved in the program since its beginning. James Edwards Yates III, the company’s owner, has a personal commitment to prevent drunken driving. In 1978, an impaired driver traveling faster than 100 mph collided head-on with Mr. Yates.

Lewis Davis, vice president of Alexandria Yellow Cab and Mr. Yates’ son-in-law, said Mr. Yates is committed to helping protect Alexandria from these types of accidents.

The other taxicab companies participating in SoberRide are Barwood Cab, Fairfax Yellow Cab, Loudoun Yellow Cab, Manassas Cab Company, Red Top Cab, Silver Cab of Prince George’s County, Taxi Transportation Services and Yellow Cab of Prince William County.

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