With cops targeting impaired drivers, ride providers tout their own services, but concede need for m
Grand Junction Police Department officer Dave Arcady usually nabs a drunken driver about every 10 traffic stops, but it only took nine stops during a DUI-specific patrol on a recent morning to find an intoxicated driver.
The night before, Arcady had arrested a driver still on crutches from a recent crash, which involved drinking. Apparently, the man was unwilling to learn from his mistakes, and Arcady cited him again, handing the 20-something his third DUI citation.
“His reasoning was that he drove because he was less drunk than his friends,” Arcady said of the man who blew a 0.116 in a breathalyzer test. The legal driving limit for blood-alcohol content is 0.08 percent.
You only had to be out late on local streets in recent weeks to see that local law enforcement is serious about cracking down on underage drinkers and drunken drivers. The greater emphasis on enforcement was evident in a cast of blue flashing lights on patrol cars every couple of blocks along the city’s more popular routes, or possibly in your rear-view mirror.
During a sobriety checkpoint on 30 Road and Patterson on St. Patrick’s Day evening, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department cited three motorists for drinking and driving. Over a four-day span of extra DUI-specific patrols, the agency cited four drivers for drinking alcohol and one for driving under the influence of drugs, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said.
According to local cab drivers and others who provide rides for people who have been drinking, revelers are much more likely to forgo driving after drinking if patrol cars are visible in the parking lot while revelers exit bars, or if a sobriety checkpoint campaign has been publicized.
Unfortunately, longtime Sunshine Taxi cab driver Jay Harwood said, a spate of recent drunken-driving deaths of five young people doesn’t factor into revelers’ decisions about whether they’ll drive drunk or find an alternative way home. Many of those decisions are made well before a person takes their first sip, Harwood said.
“Once a person gets into that stage, you can’t force them to get into a cab,” he said while shuttling folks to and from area bars recently.
Harwood has seen his share of folks stumbling out of bars and into their cars, but he doesn’t intervene directly because he doesn’t want to get assaulted. Harwood added he’s not shy about calling in drivers he sees swerving across the road.
“When I’m out here at one and two in the morning, I’m innocent,” he said.
While there are resources for people who have been drinking to get home safely, questions have been posed whether there are enough.
Grand Junction’s only taxi cab service, Sunshine Taxi, runs 12 cabs and 23 drivers. A Designated Driver Service has employees pick up customers where they’ve been drinking and drive them home in their vehicle. Another program, Safe Rides for Students, offers free rides for any reason to Mesa State College students who produce valid student identification.
Absolute Prestige and Absolute Perfection offer limo rides. Some bar owners take advantage of a Tipsy Taxi program in which they’ll give regular customers a voucher worth up to $10 for a taxi ride. Other bars offer programs in which a sober driver offers patrons a ride home for a fee.
Even with these options, Harwood said, it’s not uncommon for him to be mobbed during closing time at local bars. He worries that those folks who don’t find rides will take it upon themselves to drive home.
“It’s nothing to have 15 to 20 calls at Cactus Canyon at closing time,” he said.
Sunshine Taxi co-owner Elizabeth Williams said better communication between bar owners, cabbies and local government could help curb drunken driving in some situations.
Cabbies run into problems of finding the person who called for a ride because they’re not always allowed inside the door to search for them.
While waiting for the caller to appear for their ride, cabbies are inclined to take other customers at the bar who are outside and ready to go.
“People aren’t going to walk out the door if they don’t know we’re out there,” Williams said.
Also of concern is when bars kick patrons out of their doors to wait for rides during the winter months, which may have people opting to drive rather than wait in the cold for rides, Williams said.
She said she long has favored another program, possibly organized by the county, to shuttle people around who have been drinking. It’s a program that she and local bar owners have said they would donate to, but no organization has stepped forward to take on the role of organizing such a service.
“We just can’t get them all that quickly,” Williams said of the rush at closing time. “You can’t imagine what a joy it would be to have more communication between the bars and the county.”