Isanti County remains No. 1 in DWI reductions

Since 2006, Isanti County has had the largest decrease in drunken driving arrests in the state of Minnesota.

According to research by Isanti County Judge James Dehn, using newly released statistics by the Department of Public Safety, Isanti County has had a 67.6 percent decrease in DUI arrests from 2006-2013.

DWI arrests since 2006
DWI arrests since 2006

Dehn feels this decrease is in large part due to the implementation of the Isanti County Safe Cab program in December 2005. From 2012-2013, Isanti County had a 23 percent decrease in DUI arrests, from 154 in 2012 to 119 in 2013.

“In the last seven years, we have reduced DWI arrests by nearly 1,400,” Dehn said. “The implementation of the Isanti County Safe Cab program has had everything to do with this decrease.”

The Isanti County Safe Cab program offers bar patrons a safe ride home seven days a week. The service is free for patrons’ rides up to $15; for rides exceeding that amount, the patron is responsible for the difference. In Isanti County, Safe Cab services are provided by Cambridge Cab and East Central Taxi (Brad’s Taxi).

Dehn explained Safe Cab has provided close to 4,500 rides to 8,500 people since its inception. He noted it took about a year for people to get familiar with the program and how it worked.

Safe Cab fare costs are shared equally through Dahlheimer Beverage and McDonald Distributing-Rush City; participating bars and restaurants; and by Minnesota Safe Ride, a nonprofit organization that pays the community portion.

Loren Davis, owner of the Cambridge Bar & Grill and chairman of Minnesota Safe Ride, has been instrumental with the formation of Safe Cab and was the first recipient of a Mothers Against Drunk Driving award in 2011 for his involvement with the program.

“Being a bar owner, I feel it’s important to be involved with Safe Cab, and I see how the number of DWI arrests have decreased due to the program,” Davis said. “This reduction has saved individuals thousands of dollars as a result of not getting prosecuted for a DWI and saved taxpayers thousands of dollars for not having the courtroom-related costs with those prosecutions.”

Davis would like to see every bar and restaurant in Isanti County donate to the Safe Cab program. He said it takes about $2,400 for the community-funded portion of the program through Minnesota Safe Ride. Currently, Isanti County pays $1,800 toward the community portion, with individual and business donations providing the rest.

“If we could get everybody on board to help finance the Safe Cab program, we could stop asking Isanti County to help fund the program and those dollars could be used for something else,” Davis said. “If every bar and organization who has pull-tabs would donate proceeds of a pull-tab box to us once per year, we would have plenty of funding for this program to go on for years. Even if four bars would give us $600 per year from their pull-tab boxes, we would receive $2,400 per year, which would fund the community portion of the Safe Cab program.”

The Cambridge Bar & Grill, as well as the Isanti County Sportsmen Club, donates part of their pull-tab proceeds to Safe Cab. Davis mentioned that Grandy Lions, which has a pull-tab box at the Time Out Sports Bar and Grill in Rock Creek, donates its proceeds to the Safe Cab program in Pine County.

Dehn noted Minnesota Safe Ride has launched Safe Cab programs in Chisago, Wright, Sherburne, Ottertail, Rice, Kanabec and Pine counties, with Pine County seeing a 46 percent reduction in DUI arrests since beginning the program in 2008.

The idea for Safe Cab began in Isanti County after Dehn took his “Last Place of Drink” research in 2004 to the Isanti County Toward Zero Death committee.

Dehn started the longest-running tracking program in the country of “Last Place of Drink,” for every drunken driver pleading before him. It is now in its 16th year; he has accumulated and analyzed more than 1,300 individual reports. This information helped him launch the judicial-bar-community-law enforcement partnership, bringing bar server training to every bar establishment in the county, which set the platform for launching the Safe Cab program.

“The Safe Cab program is absolutely the most exciting thing I’ve ever been involved with as a judge,” Dehn said. “There are many wonderful people involved with this to help us with our mission of reducing drunken driving arrests and saving lives.”

Dehn and Bob Bollenbeck, with the East Central Regional Development Commission and Toward Zero Death program, recently attended a class at the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul where the students are working on making a rap music video about the Safe Cab program. The production is being funded by State Farm Insurance through the office of Pete Giancola in Deephaven, Minn.

The Safe Cab program has received national recognition through the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota, the Center for Alcohol Policy, National Transportation Safety Board, The Century Council, Center for Excellence in Rural Safety and the national Beer Institute.

“Former Congressman Jim Oberstar called the Safe Cab program a model for rural America, and was all about getting the good news of the program out to every rural county in America,” Dehn said. “An ongoing challenge for us is continuing to get the good news of the program out there as efficiently and effectively as one can. We are seeing it move into more rural counties in Minnesota, and we would like to see it get into every rural county in Minnesota, and then into the nation. We are always continuing to look for new partners.”

If interested in donating to the Minnesota Safe Ride program, checks can be mailed to Minnesota Safe Ride, P.O. Box 167, Cambridge, MN 55008.