‘Choose Your Ride’ Drunk Driving Vehicle a Minor Sensation in North Charleston
North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess knew he had to do something.
In 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced South Carolina led the nation in drunk driving fatalities, with 44% of all auto accident deaths involving at least one driver with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.
In the United States as a whole, the data revealed, drunk driving accounted for only 31 percent of all car accident fatalities.
The report was a wake-up call for state and local law enforcement. Sure, some could rationalize the statistics – South Carolina’s traffic accident fatality rate historically leads the nation due in part to the seven interstate highways that pass through it and the large stretches of rural land where roads are less well maintained and animal crossings plentiful.
But no one could ignore the sobering reality – the state had a drinking and driving problem. Soon, a full court press was on to solve it.
In municipalities like North Charleston, the heavily traveled gateway to the tourism-friendly City of Charleston and the South Carolina coast, the response included frequent visits to local high schools and colleges to talk to young people about the issue, and the public display of wrecks involved in serious drunk driving accidents.
All signs suggest the effort was working. By 2018, the percentage of auto accident deaths related to drunk driving had declined to 32%.
But one day last year, Chief Burgess received a phone call he wasn’t expecting.
“It was from the mother of a child who was killed in an alcohol-related accident,” Burgess recalled. “We had set up one of our wrecks in a high-accident area, and it just happened to be near where she lived.
“Long story short, she said seeing the wreck and being reminded of the loss of her child every time she left her house was too much for her to handle,” the chief continued. “Of course, we immediately moved the wreck to another location, but it also got us thinking about how else we could do our messaging on this important issue.”
As it happened, the North Charleston Police Department already had a pair of specialty vehicles, one pink and one black but adorned with pink ribbons, that it uses in parades and other events to bring attention to the issue of breast cancer.
Burgess realized something similar could be done in regard to driving under the influence.
Last January, the “choose your ride” vehicle was born. With a front end painted in the colors of a North Charleston police cruiser, and the back end, like a yellow taxi, the unusual vehicle imparts three simple messages to anyone who happens upon it.
The first is “choose your ride.” Then, on the police end of the vehicle, the sidewall reads “this ride is about $10,000.” On the taxi end, it says “this ride is about $20.”
The funny thing is, people flock to wherever the vehicle parked.
On a recent Sunday, when the “choose your ride” vehicle was parked in a local recreation area called Park Circle, several people snapped selfies alongside the car, and joggers and bicyclists stopped to gawk.
“I think the public loves it because it’s both interesting to look at and it also speaks for itself,” Burgess said. “And I think that gets others, like the business community excited, because they appreciate the attention the vehicle brings to an issue that impacts both them and their customers.
“’Choose your ride’ really makes a statement, and that’s exactly what we wanted,” the chief said.
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