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With the holiday season reaching its peak, opportunities abound for merrymaking, champagne glasses clinking and beer mugs thudding as partygoers get toasty or simply toast the New Year.

Participating businessesAt least 23 establishments that sell alcohol in St. Mary’s County participate in the Tipsy Taxi program, which is a last resort to get tipsy patrons home safely.If patrons do not have an alternate ride, and have run out of money for a taxi, they may ask the bartender for a Tipsy Taxi card, and for the bartender to call a ride.The following is a list of those establishments, according Tamara Hildebrand, administrator for the county’s alcohol board:ź ABC ź Abell’s Tavern ź Big T’s Crab Shack ź Blue Wind Gourmet ź Bon Buffet ź Brass Rail ź Cadillac Jacks ź Coco Cantina ź Coffee Quarter ź DB McMillian’s Pub and Grill ź Dew Drop Inn ź Fat Boys Country Store ź Green Door Bar ź Heavy Hitters Bar & Grill ź The Knight Life Sports Club ź Lenny’s Restaurant ź Loveville Tavern ź Retriever’s Grille ź St. James Pub ź St. Mary’s Landing ź Sea Breeze Restaurant ź Toot’s Bar ź WJ Dent & Sons

But before any festivities begin, it’s important to have a plan, said Tamara Hildebrand, administrator for the St. Mary’s alcohol board. Make arrangements for a friend to drive you home.

“Nobody wants to see members of this community, or guests of this community, get hurt,” she said.

The Tipsy Taxi program is available to bar patrons — as a last resort, if no family member or friend can pick them up, and if they are out of money — for a free ride home, Hildebrand said. People who have had even a little too much to drink can ask their bartender for a Tipsy Taxi card, which would qualify them for a free ride home, and ask the bartender to call the taxi company to come pick them up.

At least 23 bars in St. Mary’s participate in Tipsy Taxi, Hildebrand said. “Any of the bars can call a cab company,” she said.

The cards might have an expiration date of Sept. 30, 2012, but Hildebrand said, “Chesapeake Cab will still honor them until I issue new cards.” She’s waiting in anticipation that a second driving company will sign on for the holiday season.

“It’s not a ride from one bar to another,” Hildebrand said. It is transportation to a safe place. “It’s a ride where you’re done for the night.”

Maryland State Police made 335 DUI arrests in St. Mary’s County last year. This year, troopers made at least 314 DUI arrests here. The St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office made 201 DUI arrests last year, and have made 215 so far this year.

Across the state last year, law enforcement officers arrested about 22,000 drivers who were under the influence of alcohol, according to the Motor Vehicle Administration’s Highway Safety Office. State data for 2012 will be available in the spring.

Tipsy Taxi in St. Mary’s averaged four rides a quarter in the past year, funded, Hildebrand said, through a federal grant.

“It’s a good program to have,” said David Dent of WJ Dent & Sons and Chief’s Bar in Tall Timbers.

“I want people to be able to enjoy themselves. I want the same people to be able to come back time and again. It’s just common decency,” he said. “We want everybody to have a good time, but we don’t want anybody to get hurt.”

Hildebrand said that’s the purpose of Tipsy Taxi. It’s designed to benefit the county, as a whole. “DUIs cause a lot of grief for family and friends. It’s a drain on state resources,” she said. “People can be maimed for life. People can be killed. Just be responsible.”

nclark@somdnews.com