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Formerly the
Rural Assistance Center

Isanti County SafeCab Program

Summary 
  • Need: To reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by drunk driving in Isanti County.
  • Intervention: The SafeCab program provides alternative transportation home for bar patrons who would otherwise drive impaired.
  • Results: The program is credited with a significant decrease in DUI (Driving Under the Influence) arrests and the lower average corresponding BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) levels in Isanti County.
Description

Each year, nearly 100 Minnesota deaths are caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Under the direction of the Minnesota Safe Ride Program, the Isanti County SafeCab Program began in 2005 with the aim to reduce incidences of drunk driving in Isanti County, MN. The program idea was generated out of a Toward Zero Death traffic safety coalition meeting, held in Cambridge, Isanti County’s largest community. The meeting included community stakeholders and District Judge James Dehn.

Starting in 1997, Judge Dehn began tracking the “last place of drink” by defendants pleading guilty to DUI (driving under the influence) charges. Additionally, he kept records of the correlating Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) levels. Judge Dehn used the data to encourage local bar establishments to partner with the program. An estimated 50% of bars in Isanti County agreed to participate.

The partnership was formed and SafeCab rides were provided to bar patrons by a local taxi company as an alternative to driving impaired. The program was funded equally by three groups:

  • participating bars
  • a local beer distributor
  • a community fund
Services offered

The SafeCab program set out the following goals:

  • Increase public awareness about drunk driving
  • Partner with alcohol establishments to reduce the over-serving of patrons
  • Decrease the number of DWIs issued in Isanti County
  • Lower the average Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) readings from individuals being pulled over by police

The following services are offered to achieve the program goals:

  • Restaurant server training to reduce the over-serving of alcohol
  • Rides were provided home (not bar-to-bar) to patrons of participating establishments
  • Rides were initially provided Wednesdays through Saturdays and eventually offered 24/7 with the addition of another cab service
  • Rides are reimbursed up to $10 per person
  • A collaboration was formed with law enforcement to not ticket/tow vehicles left behind
Results

The SafeCab program has produced the following results:

  • As of 2017, over 13,000 rides were given to 27,000 individuals
  • Isanti County experienced a decrease in DUI arrests by 69% from 2006 to 2015, averaging 114 arrests per year compared to 367
  • The average Blood Alcohol Levels (BAC) of bar patrons pulled over by police decreased by 15%
  • Isanti County has now been identified as one of the top MN counties to reduce DUI charges

Demand for services has increased throughout the program duration, while DUI arrests have been reduced in Isanti County. Since its start, SafeCab has partnered with CERS and the Center for Alcohol Policy to launch the program in 5 other Minnesota counties including: Chisago, Kanabec, Pine, Sherburne, Mille Lacs, and Wright.

The program has been recognized as a national model in rural transportation by the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies and the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety, the Center for Alcohol Policy, National Transportation Safety Board, The Century Council, and the National Beer Institute.

The SafeCab program was a 2008 recipient of NADO’s Excellence in Regional Transportation Award, Additionally, partners of the program from the bar/distributing industry and Judge Dehn have been honored with awards from Minnesota MADD and MATSA, the Minnesota Alcohol Traffic Safety Association, and the Distinguished Public Leader Award from the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies.

For more information about this program and its results:

Sprattler, Karen: Isanti County “SafeCab.” Minnesota Safe Ride Program Report. 2010 March: 9-10.

RHIhub's Rural Health Models and Innovations hosts a related success story on drunk driving prevention in Isanti County: Staggered Sentencing for Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders.

Replication

The following components are recommended for program replication:

  • Utilize the media to increase public awareness
  • Work with law enforcement to not ticket/tow vehicles left behind
  • Provide services through an existing or newly established cab service
  • Strive to run the cab program every night
  • Engage area bars/distributors participation
  • Secure financial support from local government and charitable gambling entities

The Isanti County SafeCab program is a partnership with members representing a variety of sectors. It is composed of area businesses, law enforcement, Minnesota state initiatives such as Minnesota Safe Ride, private foundations, local media and even a district judge. SafeCab is the result of these groups coming together to find a solution. Successful replication in another community would likely require a similar model of community engagement.

Contact Information
James Dehn, Judge of District Court
Isanti County
Isanti County SafeCab Program
763.442.8948
jimdehn@gmail.com
Topics
Alcohol use
Substance abuse
Transportation
States served
Minnesota
Date added
July 1, 2013
Date updated or reviewed
August 2, 2017

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.