AMID ALL THE talk of road rage, aggressive driving and cell-phone bans, one particular hazard -- drunken driving -- seems to be fading a little from the national conversation. Fortunately, several groups are still taking the fight seriously, advocating for tougher penalties for repeat offenders and teaching schoolchildren about the dangers of drinking and driving. Among these is the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, a McLean-based organization with a staff of three. WRAP coordinates the SoberRide initiative, which offers free cab rides, worth up to $50, on days that have greatly increased incidences of drunken driving: New Year's, St. Patrick's Day, Independence Day, Halloween and much of December.
Over the July 4 weekend, SoberRide reached an impressive milestone: It has now provided more than 30,000 free trips home to intoxicated holiday revelers. It is an expensive endeavor. First there's the necessary advertising, then the reimbursement for all the cab fares. Last year those fares totaled more than $60,000, paid for through sponsorships from private companies.
Undoubtedly, the 12-year-old initiative is well worth the cost. Nationwide, about 40 percent of traffic fatalities are alcohol-related; here, just one-third are. One might be tempted to conclude that Washington's drivers, when perfectly sober, are more dangerous than the national average, but the overall number of traffic accident fatalities in the region has gone down.
It is impossible to tell how many lives have been saved thanks to SoberRide. But it would not be unreasonable to presume that taking 30,000 drunk drivers off the roads has prevented hundreds -- if not thousands -- of crashes, injuries and deaths. The organizers of Sober- Ride, as well as the sponsors and partners that provide the funding and services that allow it to continue year after year, deserve our gratitude.