How do you keep drunk drivers off the road? Give ’em a ride home in a limo

Michael Rothschild of the University of Wisconsin School of Business has developed a creative nudge to reduce drunk driving using limousines. He came up with the idea, which is now an actual program in Wisconsin, after spending a lot of time in bars talking to young men.

For the past few years I’ve been working on a project in Wisconsin to reduce alcohol impaired driving. In our project, Road Crew, we work with small rural communities to help them set up ride programs for people who are too drunk to drive. Communities buy used luxury cars (generally limousines), pick up people at home so they never can drive drunk, take them to the first bar, between bars and then drive them home. They pay $15-20 for the evening, and the programs are financially self-sustaining by the end of the first year. Road Crew is paternalistic in that the communities have behavior goals for the citizens, but also libertarian in that people have free choice to ride with us or not. We try to give them the best possible choice, so that they will want to select us. Drive drunk and risk a citation, or ride in style in a limo.

Road Crew, advertised in the poster above, is still a small project. It operates in just six rural counties reaching less than 2 percent of the state’s population. Thus far, it has given more than 100,000 rides. Rothschild has written a paper based on a 2002-2003 pilot test, projecting a “17 percent decline in alcohol-related crashes in the first year, no increase in drinking behavior, and large savings between the reactive cost of cleaning up after a crash and the proactive cost of avoiding a crash.”

Using data taken over the life of the program, Rothschild estimates that the Road Crew project has stopped about 140 alcohol related crashes and six alcohol related fatalities. Based on the average cost associated with an alcohol related crash (about $231,000), and the cost of avoiding a crash using Road Crew (about $6,200), Rothschild says the numbers show that it is 37 times more expensive to incur a crash than it is to avoid one. Road Crew, in other words, has saved the state of Wisconsin approximately $31 million.

You can learn more about road crew at Watch a 5-minute clip (via Real Player) from Wisconsin Public Television here. Rothschild is interested in what folks think of the idea, as are we.

Addendum: You can email Rothschild at


5 Responses to “How do you keep drunk drivers off the road? Give ’em a ride home in a limo”

  1. Phil Armour Says:

    Isn’t this just a subsidized, limited-destination taxi service? Using the justification of calling this libertarian paternalism, couldn’t one call any government-provided service libertarian paternalism (provided it’s not meant to hurt people, which I hope few are), since people can choose to use or not use the service? And the benefit of RECAP and defaults is that they barely cost anything in terms of government expenditures, whereas it seems like the start-up costs for this service have to be financed through higher taxes (or other programs that get cut). Is it really choice preserving if you make everyone pay for it? To what extent is it libertarian paternalism? Sure, it’s more choice preserving than banning cars or banning alcohol, but it’s not really anything more than a taxi service that wouldn’t otherwise be feasible becoming feasible because government uses general revenue to fund it. The State of Wisconsin may have saved money, but the teetotalers who stay in at night with their kids did not, since they’ve paid for a part of the service also, without receiving any tangible benefit (they wouldn’t use such a service, nor were they in danger of being hit by a drunk driver). I just want to emphasize that it seems like good policy, and I support saving lives and saving money, and I acknowledge the negative externalities of drunk driving as a justification for government intervention, but isn’t this just a particularly clever way for government to intervene instead of being libertarian paternalism? Or are we going to call anything that tries to preserve a measure of choice libertarian paternalism? And doesn’t the issue of funding a polic like this with taxes reduce choice in so far as it takes money away from people, whether they like it or not? Just some thoughts…

  2. Michael Rothschild Says:

    mr. armour is right that road crew is not libertarian, but given my limited understanding of libertarian paternalism, wouldn’t it still fit under that rubric? (perhaps thaler or sunstein could comment.)

    if mr. armour feels that road crew is not libertarian enough, i would suggest that in a truly libertarian society there wouldn’t be much of a problem with drunk driving as there wouldn’t be many paved roads for drunks to drive on. of course there also wouldn’t be as much beer in the bars without paved roads to make deliveries. would a libertarian state have many paved roads? would private parties find the self interest to pave the roads of rural wisconsin?

    mr. armour is also correct that taxpayers are all paying for a service that some may not need. road crew primarily has been paid for through federal tax revenues. amortizing all tax revenue dollars across the years of operation and the total number of households in the u.s., the cost per household per year is approximately $.00096. this may be too much for an absolute libertarian, but may be acceptable to a libertarian paternalist.

  3. harris12 Says:

    Is it really choice preserving if you make everyone pay for it? To what extent is it libertarian paternalism? Sure, it’s more choice preserving than banning cars or banning alcohol, but it’s not really anything more than a taxi service that wouldn’t otherwise be feasible becoming feasible because government uses general revenue to fund it.

  4. Joe Says:

    I really hope there is great success with this program. Please check out this article I wrote at it is about stronger penalties for drinking and driving

    I have had people tell me that they did not agree at first but after finishing it they considered it from a different point of view. I was seriously injured by a drunk driver and will suffer the rest of my life with the injuries.

    Anything that is done to help reduce the loss of life is well worth it even if you only save one. We are losing so many people each year because of the carelessness of drunk drivers.

    Just last week a man who had a number of DUI convictions drove through a traffic light and smashed into a vehicle. There was 5 people in the car and he killed all three of the children and injured the parents.

    If we had better laws in place this man would have lost his license long ago. He was at a bar drinking for hours and was 3 times the legal limit. The bar should have to take some responsibility because they knew he was to drunk to drive and did nothing to stop him.

    There are laws that say if I contribute to a crime I am just as guilty as the person who committed it. It should be the same for serving alcohol
    to someone that they know is going to get behind the wheel of a vehicle when they leave the bar.

    They would be contributing to that person breaking the law by driving drunk and possible killing someone. Either way we have to do more to make sure that the people with prior convictions can’t be right back on the streets driving drunk. Thanks

  5. Kathy Burke Kleven Says:

    Is the driving service still in business. We used them in fall of 2009 and it worked out great. Again we are planning our camping trip to Wildwood Campgrounds and would like a ride to The Chateau St Croix Winery on September 18th, 2010 pick up at noon from campground and pick up from the winery around 5:00. There should be about 12-14 of us, last year they used a mini bus.
    Please respond either way.
    Thank you for your time,
    kathy Burke-Kleven
    651 734-0131

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