Culture shift: Safe Rides up, OWIs down in Brown County

BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - There has been a resurgence in the effort to get people to take safe rides home rather than drinking and driving.

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The Tavern League's Safe Ride Program says that push has been successful in Brown County.

Don Mjelde is President of the Brown County Tavern League. He owns Richard Cranium's Bar in Green Bay. Mjelde ran the numbers for us.

Safe Rides in Brown County have quadrupled in the last two years. There were 1,129 Safe Rides during fiscal year 2017. That number jumped to 4,000 in fiscal year 2019.

"They still have the OWI Task Force. They're still doing everything to protect the roads. I think people are just being more responsible and just making sure people are getting home safely," says Mjelde.

Mjelde says the number of OWI arrests in Brown County is going down. Wisconsin Department of Transportation records show OWI arrests in 2009 totaled 2100. In 2018, that number dropped to 900.

OWI numbers are down 27 percent in 2019.

The DOT says alcohol-related crashes killed 159 people in 2018 and caused nearly 3,300 injuries. Mjelde says there is work to be done, but he believes the tide is shifting.

"Word of mouth is a big thing, and I think there's a paradigm shift in the way people are going out. I think they're being more responsible," says Mjelde. "We see a lot more customers in our establishments that are taking rides out and leaving the keys at home, which is just the right way to do things, because then you're forced to take a Safe Ride or call an Uber, Lyft, taxi and get home safely."

The Tavern League has added ride share provider Lyft to the list of cab companies participating in Safe Ride.

"When we integrated ride sharing with our Safe Ride program, it helped a lot, especially during busy times," says Mjelde. "We talk about Packer games, the cabs around here... they're pretty busy. So being able to have that second avenue of reliable transportation to get people home safe definitely helped increase a lot in the area."

Donations and OWI fees fund cab or Lyft vouchers for people who have had too much to drink.

Mjelde also approves of Green Bay's Safe Park Program. It allows people who opt to take a Safe Ride home to leave their cars parked overnight.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Safe Ride Program.

The Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over Campaign is underway through Labor Day. That means more officers will be on patrol for drunk and drugged drivers.