Project Drive Sober: The SafeRide Program

Posted at 4:41 PM, Nov 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-13 10:33:57-05

You can learn more about the Brown County SafeRide Program here.

The scene of a deadly crash can be a tough one to see. For law enforcement, the difficulty then moves to a family's home. It's up to police to notify people that a loved one has been killed.

"The internal anguish that we feel for those families, it is indescribable - it's very difficult, very somber," Green Bay Police Sgt. Mike Knetzger said. "I pray to god that I'll never have to knock on another door, but I know I'll have to."

Knetzger has been on the other end of the door.

"Sadly, we can relate," he said. "We had another good family friend of ours who had lost a child say that you have become part of a club that nobody invited you to. And it's true, we didn't chose this."

On June 3, 2008, Knetzger's daughter Ashley and her friend Talia were hit and killed when a drunk driver ran a red light.

"At the time of impact, based upon the reconstruction of the crash by two experts, was anywhere from 86 to 92 miles per hour," Knetzger said.

In the year after Ashley's death, Knetzger and the Green Bay Police department arrested nearly 1,300 drivers in the city. In 2018, the city is on pace for 700-to-800 arrests. Knetzger said that drunk drivers today are hard to find - a good problem to have.

"I see more than ever before when I watch bar closing on lets say Washington Street downtown, just number of customers lined up at bar closing waiting for their ride - waiting for their Uber, waiting for their taxi, waiting for their friend. And that's the best way to do it," Knetzger said.

The Wednesday before thanksgiving is one of the busiest bar days of the year. People will be packed in bars, drinking and celebrating with friends. As they leave, they'll come outside looking for a ride home, and one option bar owners hope they'll consider is the SafeRide Program.

"What it is, if somebody's in a bar that's a tavern league member that participates in the program - if they've had too much to drink, that bar will pay for your taxi or Lyft ride home," Brown County Tavern League President Don Mjelde said.

Mjelde said the SafeRide program in Brown County is gaining a lot of popularity and making a difference.

"So far in the past year, they've used over 91,000 safe rides, which is over 250 drunk drivers off the road in the state each day," Mjelde said.

Between 50 and 60 brown county bars participate. The funding for the rides comes from the DOT and from fines from OWI convictions. The price is matched by the county Tavern Leagues, and the bars get reimbursed at the end of the month.

"We want people to come back. We don't want people having too much to drink and acting irresponsibly. We want people that are responsible that are coming to our taverns, and we want to be able to take care of them so they come back again."

Mjelde said that more and more, people in the bars are familiar with and using programs like SafeRide, Uber, and Lyft.   

"What we're always trying to tell people is leave the keys at home," Mjelde said. "Come out to see us, and we'll get you a ride home no problem."

The police on patrol said that the programs are helping slow the problem of drinking and driving.

"Those programs pay for themselves," Knetzger said. "You talk about the impact of one fatality on not only a community but a family - it's significantly more in not only emotional toll but the financial toll and what not. So these programs are well worth it."

Knetzger said that it took about three years for he and his wife to find a 'new normal.' It's his hope that other families don't have to live through that process.

"Have we learned to cope, do we live differently today? Absolutely we do," Knetzger said. "But when those other events happen, when we read about those other victim families, first of all we're disgusted because drunk driving is the number one preventable crime in America, number one. It's 100 percent preventable."

With options like Uber, Lyft, and SafeRide, it may be more preventable than ever before.