Brown County study shows need to adjust anti-drunk driving efforts

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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) -- 2019 is bringing on a new push to curb drinking and driving in Brown County.

It's all about location.

A year ago, we showed you the start of a new initiative called the Place of Last Drink (POLD) study, where police started asking drunk drivers where they'd been drinking before they were pulled over.

After a year of collecting data, police discovered some surprising trends.

"I guess it's not what I was expected to see, but I'm glad to see the results we have seen," says Captain Dan Sandberg, director of the patrol division at the Brown County Sheriff's Office.

Sandberg helped spearhead the POLD study in 2018, hoping that identifying potential problem bars would target the source of drunk driving.

Instead, the data told him something else.

"Stepping back and trying to look big picture, and it's like okay, we don't really have bars that are an issue, but noticing it's the same areas," explains Sandberg.

It was optional for people to tell police where they'd been drinking, which Sandberg agrees may have altered the data, but it still provided important numbers.

A couple of businesses early in the year were flagged after four drunk drivers said they'd been to those establishments before being stopped for OWI, but Brown County Tavern League President Don Mjelde says those bars quickly made changes. They haven't registered problems since.

"It shows establishments are aware and being more proactive in making sure people get home safely," says Mjelde.

So now the place of last drink is shifting to community of last drink, focusing on a general area like downtown or the stadium district, with hopes grants will help fund education or training to target specific areas.

"There's some grant money looking at how to address exposure to alcohol among youth, practices around carding, making sure people are not having access to alcohol," says Tom Doughman, co-chair of the Brown County Alcohol and Drug Task Force.

The study also showed an increasing number of people saying they were drinking at home, so you may again start seeing a push for designated drivers and safe rides.

"It'll help everybody work together just to make sure people stay off the roads and travel safely when they drink in Green Bay," says Mjelde.

2018 marked a banner year for safe rides. The number of people taking a safe ride home nearly doubled, rising from 1,380 in 2017 to 2,287 safe rides in 2018.

It's something this entire group hopes signifies a slow change in the drinking culture.