Drunken drivers fund Saferide program

Surcharge in Wisconsin helps pay for free rides to tipsy bar patrons

Mar 14, 2005 - Convicted drunken drivers in Wisconsin are being charged thousands of dollars a year for a program that offers free rides home to tipsy customers.


Saferide, a brainchild of the Tavern League of Wisconsin, receives $5 per drunken driving conviction. Tavern owners pick up the rest of the tab, mostly for cab vouchers. Last year, tavern and bar owners provided about 30,000 people rides home, nearly double the number given in 2003, the league said.

"We know that this gets drunks off the road. We know this works," executive director Pete Madland said.

Critics counter that the program encourages heavy drinking, and government money could be better spent reminding people to not drink and drive.

Saferide operates in all or parts of 42 of Wisconsin's 72 counties, including the two most populated, Milwaukee and Dane. More than 1,000 bars and taverns offer the service, the tavern league says.

The key to the program's growth came in 1999 when the Legislature added a $5 charge to each drunken driving fine to help finance Saferide - plus budgeted $300,000 in federal funds to get it rolling. While the federal funds have ended, the surcharge raises about $150,000 a year that goes back to local tavern leagues to help pay for free rides.