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Officers to offer free cab rides to impaired drivers

ABCcabs
MARK HAMES - mhames@charlotteobserver.com
Leroy Little is a driver for Crown Cab in Charlotte, one of the cab companies partnering with the Mecklenburg County ABC Board to make sure people who’ve been drinking and have no other safe options available get home safely for free.

Mecklenburg County ABC officers will patrol uptown on Friday to fight drinking and driving – an effort that includes getting impaired motorists a free cab ride home if they need it.

The “I’m Not Driving Impaired” initiative is a partnership between the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and local cab companies, said ABC Board spokeswoman Mary Ward.

The initiative has two goals: to remind potential drivers that impairment begins with the first drink and to help keep the community safe by preventing DWI crimes and collisions, Ward said.

Ward said people who have been drinking have a number of options – call a sober friend or family member, take public transportation or call a taxi.

If a potential driver has no other safe transportation alternatives, Ward said, ABC officers can call one of the cab companies partnering with the campaign to take that person to any residential address for free.

The cab company can then submit a voucher to the ABC Board, which will reimburse it the fare from that trip.

“It’s an interesting and unique enforcement contact that’s preventing someone committing a crime,” Ward said. “It’s proactive intervention.”

Friday night will be the third time in the past calendar year that ABC officers have been out speaking with uptown revelers, Ward said. The officers typically speak with people near a parking lot or deck as they return to their vehicles.

During the pilot in August, Ward said, ABC officers spoke with 49 individuals, and 14 of them used the free cab service. When officers went out again in October, they spoke with 42 people and two participated.

“(The ABC Board) spent less than $300 to make sure 16 people who had been drinking didn’t get behind the wheel,” she said. “Seventy-five people between the two initiatives were approached by law enforcement and were able to find other safe alternatives.”

The number of DWI arrests made by all the law enforcement agencies in Mecklenburg County is down from nearly 3,700 in 2009 to roughly 2,700 in 2013, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Of the 12 local cab companies that expressed interest in the program, the ABC Board has partnered with City Cab, Crown Cab and Royal Cab, Ward said.

The ABC Board’s 14 law enforcement officers will likely spend one night a month speaking with people during 2014, especially around major holidays, Ward said, noting the initiative will be incorporated into their regular workload.

Funding comes from the sale of distilled spirits in Mecklenburg County, Ward said.

Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda
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