Smart Choice van dies—then is funded again

Torrance County’s DWI program found itself with a shortfall of about $35,000 after state-level budget cuts.

That meant its Smart Choice van, which gives rides to people drinking alcohol, was briefly shut down before the county restored funding.

The budget gap for the program left its manager, Tracey Master, asking the county commission for money to keep the Smart Choice program going—in between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The November election meant that Commissioner LeRoy Candelaria would be replaced by Javier Sanchez after the beginning of the year—and Commissioner Jim Frost said he thought the funding decision should be made by the new commission.

Last week, that new commission, now led by newcomer Sanchez, heard the funding request again—and this time they gave the program $35,000.

That pretty much restores what was lost since the beginning of the year,” Master said, noting that it does not restore Fiscal Year 2016 levels.

The DWI Prevention Program pays for various educational programs in schools and for young people. Master has also been an active participant in Teen Court and Drug Court.

When Commissioner Julia DuCharme questioned why the county would be giving rides to bars to people, Master told her, “I don’t care if it’s a million dollars and one person rides. I know he didn’t travel the wrong side down Lexco and slam into a family and kill a man, his daughter and his grandchild,” referring to a fatal accident in the county last year.

In the second quarter of last year, the Smart Choice program gave 63 passenger trips, Master said, “the highest it’s been in some time.”

Getting people to use the service has been a challenge, Master said, in spite of having some kind of advertising for years.

The program does have a Facebook page, but not too many people have “liked” it, meaning it won’t show up on their news feeds when a new post is made.

Sometimes I think it’s overdramatic when I say that this is a life-saving program,” Master said. “But it is a life-saving program. We’re not going to be able to stop every single person from getting behind the wheel after they’ve consumed alcohol, but we know that if they ride in the van and they get to their destination, they did it without risking their lives and everyone else’s lives on the road. Even one life saved is worth it.”

And at $5 a ride, Master said it is far cheaper than the financial costs of getting caught driving drunk.

The van was down for one weekend before funding was restored by the commission.

The Smart Choice van runs from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. To get a ride, call 505-705-0332.