Todd McLenithan has been bartending for 33 years. He says along with the fun of serving regulars at Kevin's Sports Pub and restaurant in North Bennington, comes the responsibility of looking for the telltale signs of someone who has had too much to drink.
"A wobbly walk, slurred speech, a little loud, maybe a little too boisterous," McLenithan said.
When he recognizes someone is intoxicated, he carefully lets them know they are not driving anywhere.
"Be as diplomatic as you possibly can, don't embarrass them, pull them aside and explain to them that they are not gonna be getting another drink and we will be glad to make sure that they get a ride home," McLenithan explained.
McLenithan and all other Vermont bartenders go through a training every two years required by the state to make sure they know the proper procedures and how to handle these situations, especially on celebratory nights like New Year's Eve.
This year there are plenty of options-- some even free-- other than getting behind the wheel and driving while intoxicated.
This is the fourth year the Bennington Sheriff's Department has teamed up with Bennington Taxi to provide free rides on New Year's Eve to anyone who calls, no questions asked.
"The legal limit of .08 is only several drinks, and so I think people lose track of time. And New Year's Eve is obviously an inherently risky time," Bennington County Sheriff Chad Schmidt said.
Schmidt says Bennington County's DUI numbers have decreased overall, and he believes that has a lot to do with this program. The department says when it started they made up to five arrests on New Year's Eve, and in 2012 they made only one. Schmidt says the program's message is not just for the holiday, but rings true throughout the year.
"To just show people in the community how easy it is to call for a ride home. And it wasn't a coincidence we used the taxi number, because even when this program isn't going, that's the number that folks need to call," Schmidt said.
Schmidt says this is the only county in Vermont that has the program, which he originally borrowed from Albany, N.Y., which had a similar program in place. He hopes other counties will adopt the program, but hopes people in other areas know they do have options, they just have to ask.
"We'll absolutely call a cab for them," McLenithan said. "We'll call a friend for them, we will call a family member for them, we will leave them here until they are provided a ride home."
The Bennington free ride program on New Year's Eve can only be used to take customers home. It cannot be used to go from a bar to a party or another bar. If people are going from one destination to another, they are still encouraged to call the cab number, but they would have to pay.
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