News

Safe-Ride Businesses, Police Out in Full Force

SoberRide & Drivers Inc. Provide NYE Options

Drunk drivers on the road this New Year’s Eve, paired with a local weather forecast of a 70 percent chance of rain and snow, will make for a potentially deadly combination. However, Falls Church City and Fairfax County Police Departments, along with multiple businesses offering safe-ride options, are already gearing up to save lives.fcpolice

 

SoberRide & Drivers Inc. Provide NYE Options

Drunk drivers on the road this New Year’s Eve, paired with a local weather forecast of a 70 percent chance of rain and snow, will make for a potentially deadly combination. However, Falls Church City and Fairfax County Police Departments, along with multiple businesses offering safe-ride options, are already gearing up to save lives.

 

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CITY OF FALLS CHURCH Police Captain Rick Campbell (left) with F.C. Police Sargeant Chuck Carr (right). (Photo: News-Press)

F.C. City Police Captain Rick Campbell told the News-Press that no officers will be granted leave Thursday night, while noting that not one drunk-driving arrest was made last New Year’s Eve in the Little City. There were two reported car accidents, neither of which were alcohol-related.

“During just about any traffic stop our officers make, they’re going to be cognizant of drinking and driving behaviors to watch out for,” said Campbell.

Public Information Officer Lucy Caldwell said the Fairfax County Police Department will be beefing up its presence all night with additional patrols targeting DUI activity.

“We’ll have officers on patrol specifically for drunk driving. We realize that people drink and drive and it continues to be a problem,” said Caldwell, who urged people to designate a driver for the evening.

The Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) reported this year that local alcohol and or drug-related traffic deaths decreased by 20.7 percent between 2007 and 2008, with a 9.7 percent decrease at the national level.

WRAP President Kurt Erickson said its SoberRide program picked up and drove home 2,000 intoxicated passengers last December. Nearly 500 of those rides for free occurred New Year’s Eve.

“What that translates to is the removal of would-be dangerous drunk drivers off our roadways,” said Erickson.

The program, offered during drinking-heavy holidays, offers free cab rides home for up to a $50 fare to intoxicated passengers 21 years or older, thanks to partnerships with local cab companies throughout D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia. Local participating cab companies include Red Top Cab Company of Arlington, which handles the majority of SoberRide’s dispatches, along with Alexandria Yellow Cab and Fairfax Yellow Cab.

SoberRide operators will transmit calls to partner cab companies depending on the caller’s location. This week, WRAP’s 2009 Holiday SoberRide program will be offered from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. nightly through Friday, Jan. 1, focusing especially on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s the biggest drinking night of the year and it’s also one of the biggest cab nights of the year. We’re contracting nine different cab companies to pull this off. We’re talking about thousands of drivers. It’s probably one of the largest organized designated-driver efforts in the mid-Atlantic region, if not the entire east coast,” said Erickson.

 

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DRIVERS INC.’S Stephen Watkins stands in front of one of the company’s interceptor cars. To Watkins’ right is a foldable bike he’s able to ride back after dropping clients off. (Photo: News-Press)

However, SoberRide isn’t the only safe option for those planning on drinking this New Year’s Eve. With drivers available 24 hours a day seven days a week, Arlington-based Drivers Incorporated takes drivers home using the driver’s own vehicle. Clients are able to listen to their own music, keep the windows up or down, all while a trained driver takes them — and their ride — back to home sweet home. An interceptor car is then sent to retrieve the Drivers Inc. driver.

Drivers Inc. Managing Partner Stephen Watkins said severe weather this New Year’s Eve is “going to be a nightmare” for people who have to venture out, and is already planning for his own business to have 10 drivers on call depending on how many reservations are placed.

“On New Year’s Eve, you already have drunk drivers on the road, but we don’t allow weather to impact our reservations. We’re going to get try to there one way or another,” said Watkins, adding that most of his drivers have access to four-wheel drive vehicles.

Though Drivers Inc. does not require reservations every other day of the year, Watkins said the program will switch to a reservation-only basis for New Year’s Eve.

“We’re pretty flexible about it, so we’ll be booking up until the last second. But if you call an hour before being picked up on New Year’s Eve, you’re probably not going to get a driver. On top of that, we’re going to have to keep an eye on the weather,” said Watkins.

The only time this year SoberRide was forced to halt operations was during the recent Blizzard of ’09, when close to 20 inches of snow accumulated in F.C. and throughout the metropolitan area.

“We simply weren’t able to put cabs out safely. At the same time, I don’t think the drinking public had the expectation of getting a cab. Two feet of snow pretty much hinders everyone’s operation,” said Erickson, who added that SoberRide still received calls that weekend.

Campbell said, severe weather or not, the City of F.C. Police will be conducting saturated patrols thanks to a roster of officers who have already signed up. Funded by a grant through the Department of Motor Vehicles specifically for DUI enforcement, assigned officers will concentrate on one particular area of the City and patrol that roadway.

“When our officers work Watch Night, the first thing they’re dealing with is road closures, as well as foot patrols for any kind of disturbances with the crowd. We’re providing a presence,” said Campbell, who said additional officers will be dispatched for the 12th Annual Watch Night celebration.

Police presence aside, Drivers Inc.’s Watkins still fears the inevitable and hopes people make the right choices, regardless of whether they choose his business or not.

“We’ve had people connected to our company who’ve had loved ones killed from drunk drivers. It’s an amazing thing to see how people are affected by that,” said Watskins. “Not just on New Year’s Eve, but anytime people think about knocking back a few, whether it’s with us or by calling a cab, a death from drunk driving is such a preventable tragedy.”

How to Use SoberRide or Drivers Incorporated New Year’s Eve

To use the SoberRide program, call 1-800-200-TAXI. A SoberRide operator will dispatch callers to a participating approved cab company. Rides are free up to a $50 fare. Passengers must be 21 years old or older. Rides will be given nightly from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. through 6 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 1. For more information, visit www.wrap.org/soberride.

To make a reservation with Drivers Incorporated, call 703-994-3931. Drivers Inc. will be switching to a reservation-only basis for New Year’s Eve. A driver will take you home using your own car. An interceptor vehicle will later be sent to pick up the Drivers Inc. driver. The cost is a $20 pick-up fee, plus an additional $3per mile. For more information, visit www.driversincorporated.com.