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SHERIDAN — Despite robust public education efforts and the implementation of a “Tipsy Taxi” program, there has been no significant reduction in overall driving under the influence arrests in Sheridan County over the last few years.
Under the Tipsy Taxi program — a joint effort between businesses, community prevention specialists and law enforcement — bar patrons are issued a voucher to receive a free or discounted ride home.
The Tipsy Taxi started running in Sheridan in July 2012. In the first few months of operation, the taxi averaged around 100 to 150 rides per month and total DUI arrests originating from the Sheridan Police Department went down 23 percent from the year prior, according to statistics provided by Sheridan Police Chief Richard Adriaens.
However, at the same time they went down for SPD, went up for other arresting agencies, including the Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office and Wyoming Highway Patrol. In addition, DUI arrests in the city and county are again on the rise.
Numbers received from Sheridan County Attorney Matt Redle indicate that so far this year, there have been 103 DUI arrests conducted by all law enforcement agencies in the county between January and the end of May. This year’s baseline number going into the summer season suggests the county will likely surpass last year’s total number of 258. In 2012, there were 219 DUI arrests, and 182 in 2011.
The SPD reported 197 DUI arrests in 2010, 174 in 2011, 134 in 2012 and 140 in 2013.
Adriaens said the effect of the Tipsy Taxi program was significant for his agency in the beginning, but it is beginning to taper off.
“There’s always a plateau,” he said. “The effect will be less and less if the program doesn’t grow.”
The entirety of the program today is the same as when it started out — one or two vehicles operated by a local taxi company designated specifically to give drinkers a ride home. Adriaens indicated the biggest drawback he’s heard about the program is that sometimes, patrons wait a long time for the taxi to arrive.
“Our biggest complaint about the program is that the wait gets too long, but the other side of that is that inebriated people sometimes aren’t always the most patient,” Adriaens said.
Adriaens also indicated the uptick in DUI arrests are a reflection of more activity that occurs with generalized economic recovery evidenced by increased local sales tax collection. He commended the county’s other law enforcement agencies for their increased efforts and enforcement activity as well.
Within Sheridan County, one of the more significant statistics related to drunken driving is the number of accidents that occurred, as opposed to traffic violations. DUI accident citations jumped up 20 percent between 2011 and 2012, from 20 to 24, respectively. DUI-related traffic citations went up only 5.3 percent during the same period.
Because of Sheridan County’s high DUI accident rate, it qualifies for extra state funding for overtime enforcement.
The same applies because the county has the lowest reported seatbelt use in the state.
Tracking DUI stats is one of a few tangible elements of comprehending the status of the overarching issue of alcohol abuse and accessory incidents in the community.
“Anywhere from 65 to 80 percent of all of our arrests are alcohol related,” Adriaens said. “That’s why we’re all over this.”
Adriaens added that the majority of violent crime in the county is also connected to late night bar activity.
“I always say that if you want to live a long, happy life in Sheridan, buckle up, don’t drink and drive and don’t be out in the bars late,” he said.