Revelers at the Happy Gnome in St. Paul are encouraged to eat, drink and be merry this holiday season, but not to drive home if they have imbibed too much.

The bar promises that it won’t tow cars that are left overnight in its parking lot at 498 Selby Av. It will actually thank them for finding a safe way home and not getting behind the wheel if they are too tipsy to drive.

“Thank you for deciding not to drink and drive,” says a note the establishment will place on windshields of cars left in its parking lot during the holiday season. “Your life and the lives of others depend on making the right choice.”

Public safety officials and law enforcement praised the idea of passing out “Thank You” notes as another way to dissuade inebriated drivers from hitting the road.

“It takes only that one moment and one time to shatter a life forever,” said Donna Berger, director of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Office of Traffic Safety. As you watch that football game or play that board game, “can you imagine your mother is no longer there, your father is no longer there, your child or maybe your grandbaby gone all too soon because they were taken due to a drunk driving crash?”

Just ask the 95 families who lost a loved one in a crash involving a drunken driver last year and are marking the holidays this year with an empty chair at the table.

The holidays serve up parties and lots of occasions for drinking, and that’s one of the reasons law enforcement conducts DWI crackdowns at this time of year. And while Minnesotans apparently are getting the message about not drinking and driving during the holidays — November (1,931) and December (1,876) had the fewest DWI arrests of any months, according to the Department of Public Safety — it can be too easy to tip a few back and then decide to drive home.

“It can be tempting, just one time to think I am OK to drive when I’m really not,” Berger says. “It takes each one of us to make the right choice to keep drunken drivers off the road.”

Last week, the Happy Gnome’s promise to provide a safe place for patrons to leave their cars caught the attention of public safety officials and law enforcement who highlighted the effort during a news conference at the popular gathering spot to announce a monthlong statewide DWI enforcement and education campaign. In what started on Thanksgiving Eve and continues on weekends through Dec. 30, police from more than 300 agencies will participate in the drunken driving campaign, the Department of Public Safety said.

And they’re gladly taking help from restaurants such as the Happy Gnome, which came up with the idea to thank drivers who “make the right choice,” said Emily Brink, the bar’s operation’s manager.

Over the past decade, more and more motorists who are in no condition to drive are making the right choice. Drunken driving arrests in Minnesota are down about 40 percent from 42,000 a decade ago to just over 25,000 last year. The number of repeat offenders has also been going down, Berger said.

Still, about one in seven Minnesotans have a drunken driving conviction on their record, and there is still work to be done.

The bottom line is, if you drink too much, call a friend to drive you home, take a sober cab or an Uber, and leave your car behind. So here’s to safe and sober driving. And for that the Happy Gnome, law enforcement and your fellow motorists thank you.

 

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.