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Helena taverns offer free Uber rides to prevent drunken driving

Posted at 5:32 PM, Dec 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-27 13:51:52-05

HELENA – The Tri-County Licensed Beverage Association reports their DUI prevention efforts with mobile ride-sharing have succeeded well beyond expectations.

“The Home Free Program” is a partnership between the beverage association and Uber that was developed in 2016.

The program is currently in use at 11 taverns in the area, and since its inception, it has helped to keep 1,100 drunk drivers off Helena-area streets and highways.

Tri-County Licensed Beverage Association President Bruce McCullough said Home Free is an easy way to take preventative steps to keep drunk drivers off roads and hopefully save lives.

“The biggest thing when we put this together is it had to be affordable, reliable and simple because if it’s complicated bartenders aren’t going to take the time to do it,” noted McCullough. “By simply pushing a button and entering an address, it’s a done deal.”

Each participating location has a dedicated device with a special Uber app on it. Bartenders just have to type in the home address for the person that needs it and then the driver is notified.

The program doesn’t cost tavern patrons any money to use the service and money for the drivers are paid for through dues to Tri-County Licensed Beverage Association.

The cost comes to around $17 per ride and each participating members pays $300 a year into a fund for the program.

Helena is the first community in the nation to create such an Uber program, according to the Montana Taverns Association.

McCullough hopes that the success they’ve seen will help encourage others in the community and around the state to take part in the program.

Other tavern associations across the state have also taken steps to help with preventative drunk driving programs.

The Cascade County Tavern Association (CCTA) has operated its Home Safe program for more than 30 years. CCTA owns two shuttles and employs additional SUVs on New Year’s Eve to help transport people safely.

The Silver Bow Tavern Association Home Free program lets patrons at more than 40 Butte bars tell their bartender they need a ride home and they are given vouchers that pay for their rides.

Home Safe in Missoula is used by 15 bars where they pay a base fee to give their customers a voucher that is good as far as four miles outside the city limits.

The Montana Taverns Association say most cities across the state offer some type of local transportation service to prevent drunk driving.

“Almost any bar in Montana will provide a ride home for their patrons,” explained Dax Cetraro, President of the Montana Tavern Association, and a bar owner himself. “As bar owners, we have a lot at stake ourselves, and we don’t want you out on Montana roads if you’ve been drinking.”

McCullough personally would like to see a change to how Montana fights drunk driving.

“We need enforcement, yes, but we need to focus on prevention first and creating a new culture in our state. Instead of spending countless dollars on stiffer penalties and increased jail times or a dedicated DUI patrolman, wouldn’t it be wiser to spend more money on programs for prevention?” stated McCullough,

“Helena has kept over 1,100 drunk drivers off the road in the last 18 months. Think what that number could look like if we were able to run programs like Home Free across Montana.”

-John Riley reporting for MTN News