Taxi Squad spells out the choice: a safe ride or our ride

Part police squad car, part taxi, the Taxi Squad, an Anoka County Toward Zero Death/Driving While under the Influence (TZD/DWI) Task Force project, is all about sending a message about making the right choices. Arrange a safe ride or law enforcement will give you one. Photo by Tammy Sakry

Part police squad car, part taxi, the Taxi Squad, an Anoka County Toward Zero Death/Driving While under the Influence (TZD/DWI) Task Force project, is all about sending a message about making the right choices. Arrange a safe ride or law enforcement will give you one. Photo by Tammy Sakry

The new Taxi Squad is the Anoka County Toward Zero Deaths/Driving While Under The Influence (TZD/DWI) Task Force’s newest weapon in the ongoing campaign against drinking and driving, according Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart.

This squad will be serving as a visual reminder to choose a ride: either a taxi or other sober driver, or face a squad car ride following a DWI arrest.

“It is a great way to remind people what the best way is to get home safely,” said Blaine Police Chief Chris Olson.

 Taxi rides are expensive, but the ride in a police squad after being arrested for driving while under the influence can be far more costly. Photo by Tammy Sakry

Taxi rides are expensive, but the ride in a police squad after being arrested for driving while under the influence can be far more costly. Photo by Tammy Sakry

Arranging for a safe ride home, taking a taxi or public transit far outweighs the cost of drinking and driving, said Fridley Police Chief Don Abbott.

So, what is the cost of DWI? The trunk of the Taxi Squad spells that out.

• Cost of losing the car: $29,000;

• Lawyer fees: $10,000;

• Arrest fines: $3,500;

• Insurance rate hikes: $3,000.

“It is cheaper to figure in the cost of a taxi ride than the cost of getting caught drinking and driving,” Olson said.

Olson said he would like to see people use common sense and have zero DWI arrests.

While the new Taxi Squad will not have any law enforcement duties on New Year’s Eve, it will also not be driving people home.

The Anoka County Sheriff’s deputy and the Fridley police officer traveling in the Taxi Squad on New Year’s Eve will be talking to bar, club and restaurant patrons, and, in some cases, helping arrange safer options, Abbott said.

The Taxi Squad will be stopping at 20 bars, clubs and restaurants in Anoka County starting after 7 p.m.

The point behind the Taxi Squad is to improve public safety, said Stuart.

Approximately 35 percent of fatal accidents are alcohol-related, he said.

“In 2012, there have been 366 traffic fatalities in Minnesota and there were 368 in 2011,” Stuart said.

Anoka County is one of the 13 deadliest counties in the state, he said.

In 2011, there were 11 fatalities and 1,508 personal injury accidents in Anoka County, Stuart said.

The National Safety Council estimated it costs Minnesota $262 million for alcohol-related crashes a year, he said.

DWI enforcement statewide was stepped up during the holiday season and in the first 18 days of December, 1,300 DWI arrests were made, Stuart said.

There have been 1,800 DWI arrests in Anoka County in 2012 to date, he said.

“Planning a sober ride will help drivers avoid accidents, deaths, injuries and certainly reduces the likelihood of getting a ride in our taxi,” Stuart said.

Individual efforts, like planning a safe ride, offering one or taking public transportation, has a greater impact on reducing DWIs than enforcement and education, said Abbott.

“We want people to celebrate the new year. If that includes drinking, we want them to take a safe ride home so they can come back next year,” he said.

Throughout the year, the Taxi Squad will be visiting community events, schools and other events, Abbott said.

An older vehicle for the Taxi Squad was donated by the Blaine Police Department and the program is funded with DWI forfeiture funds, he said.

Tammy Sakry is at tammy.sakry@ecm-inc.com

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