Updated: 03/18/2014 4:29 PM
Created: 03/13/2014 9:39 PM KSTP.com
By: Naomi Pescovitz
DWI patrols will be on high alert this St. Patrick's Day, but one Minnesota program is proving it's possible to drastically cut the number of drunk drivers.
The program is called Safe Cab and seven nights a week, it offers a free cab ride home and the promise that your car won't be ticketed or towed. At Cambridge Bar & Grill, the program has eliminated the temptation to drive home after too many drinks.
"Any time I think I'm going to have more than a couple drinks, I can call a cab, have them call a cab, and I know I'll get home safe," said Linda Hendrix.
Server Tina Niles has also used a Safe Cab. "I wish they would have had it years ago," Niles said.
From the bar to the bench, Isanti County District Judge James Dehn has spent decades trying to keep drunk drivers off the road.
"In my 26 years on the bench, I've sent too many people to prison for taking people's lives," Dehn said.
Dehn started the Safe Cab program in Isanti County in 2006. In the first month, they gave three free rides to eight people.
"Things have just exploded," Dehn said. Since then, the program has given 4,500 rides to 8,500 people in the county.
"Bar tenders are encouraging it, other drinkers encouraging it, people in the restaurants encouraging it, people get the idea," he said.
In Isanti County, drunk driving arrests are down 67.6 percent, from 367 in 2006 to 119 last year.
"We're excited about it and we want to spread it to all the rural counties in Minnesota, in fact all the counties in Minnesota," Dehn said.
They have expanded to Wright, Sherburne, Pine, Chisago, Rice, Otter Tail and Kanabec counties.
One of the most successful is Pine county which has provided 2,500 rides since 2008.
"Where would you rather wake up at tomorrow morning? Either your own bed or at the Isanti County Jail," said Loren Davis, owner of Cambridge Bar & Grill.
It is a lesson Niles knows well and now shares with her customers. "I would have taken it that night, absolutely," she said.
Rides are free up to $15. The program cost is split between the bars, local beer distributors and the non-profit "Minnesota Safe Ride."
Part of the cost is funded by pull-tabs at bars around the county.