HELENA – Helena-area tavern owners say addressing DUIs takes input from all sides.
“It’s a teamwork between the DUI Task Force, our prevention program and enforcement,” said Bruce McCullough, one of the owners of Miller’s Crossing in downtown Helena and the president of the Tri-County Licensed Beverage Association. “Those are three key factors that make the whole thing successful, and they’re all very important pieces of the puzzle.”
The association’s contribution has been the Home Free program, a partnership with the ride-sharing app Uber. Participating bars have access to a special Uber app, allowing them to request rides for customers who shouldn’t be driving.
“It’s a matter of pushing a button and asking for a ride, and you’ve got a ride within five or 10 minutes,” McCullough said.
Leaders say the program is growing significantly. It launched in 2017, with just four taverns. Last year, the number had grown to 11. Now 27 establishments, mostly in Lewis and Clark County, are using the system.
“I’ve got other taverns that call me up and say, ‘Hey, we’ve heard about your program, we see its success, and we want to be a part of it,’” said McCullough.
McCullough said 13 people got rides through Home Free over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Overall, the program has kept more than 1,200 impaired drivers off the roads.
There is no cost for a tavern customer to get a ride through the program. Participating businesses pay $300 a year to fund the program.
The Home Free program has drawn support from leaders like Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher and Sheriff Leo Dutton. Dutton praised local tavern owners for taking preventive action against DUIs.
“That’s working in partnership with private business and government, and that’s where people win,” he said.
McCullough hopes Home Free can inspire similar efforts around Montana.
“What we’re hoping is, with the success of this, to encourage other associations within the state to jump on this program with us,” he said. “We’re hoping to expand the network statewide.”
Dutton said steps like this can make a meaningful difference in local DUIs.
“I think if we work together and do just this, we can make Montana a safer place, we can make Lewis and Clark County a safer place,” he said.
McCullough said the Tri-County Licensed Beverage Association has added additional “associate sponsors” for Home Free in recent months. They include other local businesses – and even some private citizens – who provide financial support for the program.