Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

In 2010, Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland set out to establish a program on New Years Eve to provide safe rides home to those partaking in the holiday festivities in 2010. The program was deemed “Operation Think Twice” and has operated annually ever since.

This year, the Macon County Sheriff’s Office provided rides home to 68 people out on New Year’s Eve.

“We had another successful evening and gave 68 rides homes for people who called in,” said Holland. “An important part of it is the fact that while most would not be driving, statistics say that some would have possibly, so it saves not only money, but potentially lives as well, and keeps somebody from making a bad decision.”

When the program was established, it was done so with the intent of keeping the roads safer during a time where drinking is more common. Macon County’s rural geography and scattered population means no public transportation. So while larger cities have the options for taxi services or ride services such as Uber, people in Macon County who celebrate the new year at the annual Ruby Drop event or around town with friends, have virtually non-existent options in terms of public transportation. The program wasn’t established to give individuals drinking an “out” or encourage the behavior, but rather with the intent of keeping the roads safer for everyone. Providing a safe ride home keeps the roads safer for all those traveling.

This year, the program gained international attention when information about the event was posted online to Reddit, a social media site. People from all over the world commented on the event, most of which were positive. Some people shared concerns about the program and how it seemed as if it was a “trap.” Sheriff Holland quickly dispelled those claims and said that the program has always been offered as a  “free, no questions asked” program. Officers don’t lecture those who are taken home, nor are passengers searched or questioned, Sheriff Holland explained, it is nothing more than a ride. The program reminds people to drink responsibly and keep everyone’s safety in mind. The major goal of the program is to drastically reduce or eliminate the number of drunk drivers on the roads for New Year’s Eve.

While 68 people called in for transportation this year, one of those passengers was taken home due to an unexpected ice storm that coated Western North Carolina on New Year’s Eve. Sheriff Holland said a mother called and asked if deputies would pick up her daughter from work and help her get home in the storm, which officers were glad to do.

DUI check points and other patrol measures were still enforced throughout the evening and resulted in two DUI arrests.

Holland stated that everyone involved with the operation, from the drivers to the passengers had fun, and word of mouth has helped the event grow each next year. Sheriff Holland was even on hand just after midnight to provide rides home. His passengers were grateful for his service and more than one entertained him with their rendition of “I Shot the Sheriff.”

In addition to keeping the roads safer, Holland said the annual event is a great opportunity to connect with the community every year.

Holland said he would like to see the program continue to grow and help other departments facilitate similar programs in their communities.