A pilot program designed to reduce the number of drunk drivers by encouraging restaurants and bars to serve free, non-alcoholic drinks to "designated drivers" was announced Monday by the Orange County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
The program is aimed at putting sober drivers behind the wheel and inducing responsible drinking habits among restaurant and bar patrons, said Janet Cater, executive director of the 760-member Orange County MADD chapter.
About 20 Orange County restaurants and bars have signed up for the program, said Karen Krone, vice president of the Orange County MADD chapter. The group will continue to recruit more businesses as the program picks up steam, she said.
Businesses participating in the program will offer free, non-alcoholic drinks to each person designated as the driver for a group of two or more friends. In return for the complimentary drinks, the designated driver pledges to remain completely sober and to drive home the friends who are drinking.
'Life of the Party'
The designated driver is identified by a pin, purchased for $1 at participating businesses, which pictures a driver with two hands on a steering wheel. Cater said that proceeds from the pins, which will be honored at all participating restaurants and bars, will go to offset the $200 fee MADD is charging businesses for the pins, posters, and other promotional materials, which proclaim: "Be the life of the party. Be a designated driver."
Following a press conference held in an Anaheim restaurant that was attended by politicians and representatives of several area police departments, MADD National President Norma Phillips said: "We're not prohibitionist and we never have been. But we are for responsible driving."
The designated driver program "makes it possible to go out and party and have fun and still have a safe ride home," Phillips said.
With 400 MADD chapters nationwide and a membership of 650,000, Krone said the group would like to see the designated driver program spread throughout the country after its pilot run in Orange County.
"We hope to do it nationwide," she said, adding that MADD chapters in Los Angeles and San Diego had expressed interest in adopting the program.
Managers of a number of participating restaurants said they were enthusiastic about the program.
"We support the program totally. A dead patron is not much good to us," said Andy Kettley, general manager of the Ritz in Newport Beach.
Said Avril Archibald, director of marketing and entertainment for the Red Onion chain, which has all three of its Orange County outlets participating in the program: "It's an investment in the future. If they have a good time and enjoy themselves, then they'll come back another time."
Keith Phillips, owner of the Rose and Crown British Pub and Restaurant in Anaheim, said he had been running a designated driver program on his own since March and welcomed the idea of a countywide program.
"I'm selling booze. I want you to drink booze, but I want you to be responsible," he said. "We have a product to sell like any other retailer. We're conscientious and responsible for the safety of that product."
Gary Parkinson, manager and part owner of the Catch in Anaheim, said current social attitudes portray the innkeeper as the "bad guy" and have "made the hospitality industry responsible for people drunk driving." But, he said: "It's a two-way street. The public needs education. The public needs to become responsible. You've got to realize--it's you driving the car."
Insurance Rate Soars
Parkinson said MADD's designated driver program would help to educate the public about responsible drinking, and if other restaurants and bars joined the program, it might have the indirect effect of lowering his restaurant's liability insurance, which leaped from $17,000 in 1985 to $92,000 in 1986.
"If the whole industry becomes more responsible . . . then it can't help but get our rates down," he said.
Despite increased public awareness, drunk driving continues to be "the most frequently committed violent crime in the United States," MADD's Norma Phillips said. Last year in the United States, 22,360 people were killed by drunk drivers, and an additional 561,000 people were injured in drunk driving-related accidents, she said.
Cater said the pilot program could have a significant impact in Orange County, where "there are currently a million undetected impaired driving trips (per year). Fifty percent of them are people who have been drinking in restaurants and bars. If we can get sober drivers to replace those impaired drivers, we can decrease the 4,000 (drunk driving-related) injuries in Orange County every year by 50%."