TROY, N.Y. -- Rensselaer County is once again teaming up with the Netters Fund to provide partygoers with free and safe transportation home on New Year's Eve with the "Safe Ride" program.

In a press release, Troy-Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen M. Jimino urged residents to plan their New Year's celebrations wisely, and to not drive drunk. "I urge all those planning on celebrating to plan ahead to ensure appropriate transportation after their New Year's celebration and not hesitate to take advantage of our Safe Ride program. Let's start the New Year off on a safe and positive note," said Jimino.

As part of the joint operation, the County will provide three vehicles, which will be in operation from 11 p.m. on New Year's Eve until 2 a.m. on New Year's Day. The vehicles will be driven by volunteers from various county agencies and staffed with Sheriff's Department deputies, and will operate on a first come-first serve basis.

The Netters Fund will supplement the operation by providing free taxi rides from local cab companies from participating bars and restaurants. For a list of participating establishments, you can visit the Fund's website at netters.us.

"Rensselaer County is committed to preventing the tragedies that can occur when people choose to drive drunk and I am confident that our efforts to prevent drunk driving will help make our streets safer," said Jimino.

The Netters Fund, named for Annette Alison "Netters" Nichols Balistieri, who was killed by a drunk driver on Aug. 7, 2005, is described in the mission statement on their website as a "Not-for-Profit Fund that will aid in the Education and Prevention of Drunk Driving. If possible the Fund will also be used to support the Enforcement of Drunk Driving Laws."

Annette's husband, Mark J. Balistieri, who founded the Netters Fund, wrote in the wake of the accident that, "I made a promise to Annette to do everything in my power to make sure this doesn't happen to other families. If I do this alone, it is not probable that I can do it, however if everyone who reads this article helps, then it is possible."

The fund established the Safe Ride Program in 2006, and since then it has provided over 2,500 free cab rides, primarily in Renesslaer County. The program is seeking corporate sponsors to help expand the program into Albany and Schenectady counties as well. The fund pays for cab rides back home from participating bars and restaurants, and a ride back the next day to where they left their car.

In a separate press release, the Renesslaer Sheriff's Office announced that they were planning to, "be out in full force, looking for suspected drunk drivers," on New Year's Eve, and encourages those who will be drinking to take advantage of the Safe Ride service. "Impaired drivers not only take the risk of hurting or killing themselves or someone else, there are also significant financial and traumatic costs involved in an alcohol-impaired-driving arrest or crash. Violators often face jail time, the loss of their driver licenses, higher insurance rates, and dozens of other unanticipated expenses. Enjoy the holiday and all its festivities, but remember to be safe and careful," said Sheriff Jack Mahar.

"In this day and age, the only excuses that people use are exactly that, excuses," said Mark Balistieri, "There is no justifiable reason for someone to get behind the wheel of a vehicle after drinking. They may say its inconvenient to not have their vehicle with them, well how inconvenient is it for us to not have such a special person in our lives anymore?"

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB