Is it a police car or a taxi?
Robert Huston realizes the vehicle he unveiled Nov. 23 and its signage, which includes “Sheriff Huston’s Taxi Co.,” might confuse some.
He’s not opening a side business.
Tazewell County’s top police officer, however, is literally lending his name to a new project that he and leaders of the Tazewell Teen Initiative (TTI) hope will give potential drunk drivers pause to consider their next ride — a taxi or a squad car.
“Everyone who sees that thing will be talking about it, and that’s the point,” Huston said at a news conference to show off his department’s newest tool to curb drunken driving.
With a grant from State Farm Insurance Co., the department applied yellow plastic wrap to the back half of a white department utility car clearly marked as a sheriff’s vehicle.
The result is a combination of auto detailing intended to convey the message, “Choose Your Ride.”
Several deputies proposed the idea after learning of a similar project in Texas, Huston said.
“At first I thought they were kidding me,” he said. “It looked a little strange. But it’s a gentle, almost fun way” to deliver a message that could save lives.
That has been the goal since 2006 of TTI, a coalition of area police and health agencies and teenage representatives organized by the county Health Department after 15 teens were killed in accidents within 15 months. The coalition applied the insurance company grant funds it received to the taxi-squad idea.
Huston said the vehicle has already demonstrated its public impact.
A deputy driving it to Pekin from Springfield noticed a car speeding from behind “at about 90 mph,” Huston said. Its driver obviously thought he was approaching a cab, “until he got alongside. Then it was like his brakes locked” when the car’s true identity came in sight.
The Choose Your Ride car will not be used in regular police work, though after the episode with the highway speeder, “It will have a radar gun,” Huston said.
Rather, it will serve as “a traveling billboard” prompting the question, “Do you want to go home in a sheriff’s car or a taxi?” said Jody Heavilin, the health department’s TTI chairwoman.
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Huston said it also will be displayed at area festivals and other outdoor events on a year-round basis.