"It's kind of strange." That's how Christina McDonald, 24, described the feeling of having a stranger drive her home after a night of drinking -- and in her own car, no less. "It's also kind of nice," she added.

She's talking about designated-driver services. Unlike a taxi, which might cost the same or more, these services make sure that both you and your car get home safe and sound. ("I don't want to be in a grungy, nasty taxi," McDonald said.) It also beats leaving your car in a parking garage overnight or on the street to be ticketed. It definitely beats getting a DWI.

The Twin Cities area is home to several designated-driver businesses, which will pick you up and drive you home in your car.

On Friday, I tagged along with McDonald and her boyfriend, John Bauer, 26, as they enjoyed an early Friday night at O'Gara's in St. Paul. After dinner and four rounds of Captain-and-Cokes, the couple were ready to head home at about 9:30 p.m. Each of them has small children.

They jumped into their white Chevy minivan and snuggled up in the back seat. At the wheel was Bob Janisch, a driver and co-owner of Drink and Drive Intelligently. Customers like McDonald and Bauer simply need to call DDI's hot line and a car will meet them within 30 minutes at their location (they prefer reservations). These services work with two-person teams. So on Friday, another DDI driver tailed the minivan on the 12-mile drive back to McDonald's White Bear Lake apartment.

"I can pay for a DWI, but I can't pay to take back someone's life," Bauer said. "I lost my dad to a drunk driver."

This was an average run for DDI -- calm and courteous passengers who were just happy to get home safely.

Every run isn't this harmonious. Getting customers into their cars during the 2 a.m. bar-close in downtown Minneapolis can be like herding cats. Drunken customers have forgotten where they live. Some can't stop puking. Others demand late-night stops at a fast-food drive-thru.

"We try to make it like you're driving home with your buddy -- but your very sensible and sober buddy," Janisch said.

While it sounds like a taxi service, designated-driver companies aren't regulated like that industry. They don't need a taxi license because they're driving your car. Some companies rely on your insurance if there is an accident, while others insure their drivers themselves.

This isn't a glorified cab service, said the guys behind DDI. They cater to their customers.

"The last time I was in a taxi I had to puke and the guy wouldn't pull over," Bauer said. "So I puked on myself."

"We're good at pulling over," Janisch said.

thorgen@startribune.com • 612-673-7909

A look at two designated-driving services


Contact: 651-338-1425 or www.youdrinkwedrive.org.

Cost: $30 minimum fee for first five miles. $3 per additional mile. Average fare: $50.

Coverage area: Up to 30 miles outside the Interstate Hwy. 494/694 loop.

Owners: Brian Peters, David Jancoski, Bob Janisch and Carl Bleske, all age 25.

Most expensive car they've driven: Mercedes SL55 AMG.

Most famous passenger: "I can't say," Peters said. "We have a pretty elite clientele. But we are confidential. It can be exciting or surprising."

Customers they'd like to get on board: College students. "It's hard for them to realize the value of our service until they see it affect them or the lives of the people around them."

Odd pickups on the way home: "We've stopped at the grocery store. We've stopped at a friend's house to get their dog. You name it. People seem to travel with their dogs a lot for some reason."

Most money spent at a drive-thru: "It was one man and he ordered $54 worth of food at Taco Bell," Jancoski said. "It was 28 or 29 chili cheese burritos with extra cheese. I'm thinking, 'What are you possibly going to do with all those burritos?' But hey, we're not here to judge."


Contact: 651-491-9363 or www.drydrivers.com.

Cost: $5 per mile for first five miles ($25 minimum), $3 for each additional mile. $10 fee for downtown pickup. Average fare: $30-$35.

Coverage area: Interstate Hwy. 494/694 loop.

Owners: John Cady, 24, and Adam Hammad, 25, who started it as students at the University of St. Thomas.

What makes them different: Drivers are uniformed.

Most expensive car they've driven: "We've driven a Bentley home," Cady said. "We've driven a Maserati home. It would be a toss-up between those two."

Craziest drives home: "Generally speaking, they're pretty rare. Most of our customers are young professionals. Our customers kind of have a vested interest in making sure everything goes smoothly, since we are in their vehicle."

Busiest suburb: South St. Paul, North St. Paul, Oakdale, Little Canada. "The suburbs around St. Paul have a lot of bars."

Biggest days of the year: New Year's Eve, St. Patrick's Day and the day before Thanksgiving.