(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) Arlington residents can expect to see an unusual car on the streets through the holiday season, reminding of the dangers of drunk driving.
The Arlington County Police Department partnered with Red Top Cab and the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) in the unveiling of a vehicle that’s half police car and half taxicab. The vehicle has been nicknamed the “Chooser Cruiser” because it reminds people that they have choices for getting home after drinking — in the back of a taxi or in the back of a police car.
“We are very excited to present yet another reminder of the choice people have before taking to the roads if alcohol is part of their celebration,” said Red Top Cab Chief Operating Officer Wayne Miller.
As part of the public/private initiative, Red Top donated the former taxi, which has more than 396,000 miles on it, and paid for its makeover. ACPD donated the lights on top which had previously been a former police cruiser, and will be responsible for positioning the vehicle throughout the county. Both organizations emphasize that due to the donations, the vehicle was of practically no cost to taxpayers.
The car’s unveiling (which was delayed due to Superstorm Sandy) comes just in time for the holiday season. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 25 percent of all drunk driving deaths in the U.S. occur in December. The holidays of Christmas and New Year’s Eve see a 40 percent and 60 percent spike in alcohol related traffic deaths, respectively.
“The holiday season is a particularly dangerous time,” said ACPD Chief M. Douglas Scott. “We’re doing everything we can to both identify and apprehend impaired drivers.”
Chief Scott noted that penalties for first time drunk driving offenders include up to a $2,500 fine, a jail term of up to one year and/or the suspension of the offender’s drivers license for up to one year.
Neal Nichols, President of Red Top Cab, handed over the vehicle’s keys to Chief Scott at the unveiling ceremony.
“This retired Red Top Cab spent some of its time already taking people home who had overindulged,” Nichols said. “Let’s hope that this Chooser Cruiser will cause people to think twice and will save lives.”
Arlington is the first area in the D.C. metro to take part in this pilot program. The Chooser Cruiser will be stationed at various points around the county through the new year. It will be used in conjunction with regularly scheduled sobriety checkpoints.
“Hopefully it will change behavior. Even if it changes the behavior of one individual, it can be deemed a success,” said ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. “Drunk driving is one of the rare public health issues that is 100% preventable.”
On the front of the car are all the badges for the D.C. metro area’s supporting law enforcement agencies. The back features the number to call for a free lift from SoberRide, a service that has provided nearly 56,000 free rides since 1993.
Starting on December 14 and running through January 1, local residents age 21 and older can call SoberRide for a free trip home, up to a $30 fare. Between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., residents can call 1-800-200-TAXI (8294), and AT&T customers can text #WRAP. One of these methods must be used to get the free ride, because calling individual cab companies directly will result in normal cab fares. More information about the program is available online.