service offers free rides home:
By CHRISTOPHER YASIEJKO / For
close to 10 years as a part-time limousine driver, Alan Ladd saw
first-hand how widespread driving under the influence of alcohol was.
As bars emptied Friday and Saturday nights, he saw a steady steam of
impaired drivers get behind the wheel. He attributed the dangerous
behavior to a lack of both planning and convenient alternatives for a
ride home. But his goal was not to find an explanation; Ladd wanted to
provide a solution.
His vision would entail a
nonprofit service in which a volunteer would arrive at a bar and, at
no charge, drive the drunken beneficiary home in his or her own
vehicle. Another volunteer would follow in a separate car and, once
the inebriated patron was safely home, return with his or her partner.
The service, funded partially by the Delaware Office of Highway
Safety, is being modeled after a similar program in Sacramento,
Ladd researched programs in Las
Vegas, Sacramento, and Orange County, Calif. He learned that some
charged a fee; some served only the establishments that supported the
program. On Nov. 19,
Delaware Designated Drivers, the product of Ladd's cooperative efforts
with two co-founding directors, began serving the Newark area on
Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. He and more than 60
volunteer drivers helped spread the word by distributing pamphlets,
business cards and keychain tags with telephone numbers.
Several dozen have used the
service. But the program
can't survive on goodwill alone, and its future depends on the
community's trust and help. "The
program is so new," says Ladd, 40, a U.S. Postal Service veteran
of more than 20 years, "that some people think there must be some
kind of catch."
The pool of volunteers, which Ladd
hopes will reach 125, is growing. But most bars and restaurants he's
approached have been slow to display DDD's literature.
The East End Cafe, on Main Street,
made the organization's fliers and business cards available to patrons
around the second week of December.
Within the first couple of weeks, says owner Rich Katz, patrons
had used the new service about 10 times.
"We didn't even know," Katz says, "because the
bars don't have to be notified."
Neither do the police, which Ladd hopes will encourage underage
drinkers to call DDD without fear of arrest.
All the service requests is a first name and an address for
Volunteers consist largely of
University of Delaware students.
Tyler Somers, a 19-year-old sophomore, first served on a Friday
night early this month. "On duty means we have our cell phones,
and we sit around for four hours," Somers said. "We had sat
around for three hours when we got a call from three guys who were
outside the Deer Park." Somers
and a colleague drove to the tavern. Somers drove the men's vehicle to
an apartment 10 minutes away while the other volunteer followed.
"They were loud, and some of the time they were
obnoxious," Somers says, "but it was cool because I got to
build a relationship with the main guy who wasn't as
Newark Mayor Vance Funk says he's
impressed with the program. "Any time we can get drunk drivers
off the road," he says, "I think it's an incredible, good
deal for the public."
Christopher Yasiejko at 324-2778 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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