A successful program for decreasing drunk driving incidents and engaging multi-community stakeholders was started in Minnesota in 1997 and continues today. Judge James Dehn, concerned about the number of DWI cases that were appearing in his court, began tracking every DWI plea by having the offender identify their “last place of drink” before their DWI arrest.

Judge Dehn enlisted the help of a University of Minnesota professor to run the data he was collecting from every offender. The data he gathered from 1997-2004 revealed that 62 percent of the pleading drunk drivers identified specific bars as the “last place of drink” before their DWI arrests. The average BAC level of these offenders was .17 percent.

In 2004, Judge Dehn approached his local Towards Zero Death (TZD) community group and invited the bar owners and other stakeholders to a community meeting where they privately shared with the bar owners their individual average bar BAC content reports and number of DWIs coming from their bars.

The alcohol retailers embraced the concept of being part of the solution to this problem  and teamed up with the court and other community groups to reduce the drunk driving numbers. Out of the partnership came the SAFE CAB program in 2005. The program costs were financially shared in thirds by the participating bars, the local beer distributors and a community fund called Safe Ride (a non-profit that was created to support the SAFE CAB program).

The goals of the partnership are:

  • Reduce number of DWIs in the county
  • Reduce average BAC readings coming from bars
  • Educate public about drunk driving and
  • Work with alcohol retailers to establish best practices for serving patrons

The SAFECAB program, supported by participating bars, has resulted in Isanti County becoming the number one county in Minnesota for reducing overall DWI arrests by over 60 percent since its inception. The server training partnership has reduced the average BAC reading to below .15 percent.

The SAFECAB program has spread to several counties in Minnesota and is showcased by the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety (CERS) as the model for rural counties across the United States.