In a season when some people think that getting in the holiday spirit means drinking more liquor than usual, Westside police officers are stepping up their efforts to promote safe driving and reduce alcohol-related car crashes.
The designated-driver program being promoted by the Los Angeles Police Department's West Traffic Division has been so successful that it is being emulated by traffic police in other areas of the city and county as well, police say.
In the last three years, Westside traffic police have asked restaurant proprietors to offer a designated-driver program in which free soft drinks are offered to the designated non-drinker in a group.
"If we get one person a night to leave each restaurant sober, we're pleased," said Officer Chuck Lovold, one of two West Division traffic officers coordinating the local designated-driver program. "We'd love to get 20, though.
"We're having a big push now because this is the drinking season," Lovold said. "This is the time people drink and drive, and we want them to enjoy themselves, but to come home safely."
So far this year, 82 Westside restaurants have signed up, he said, adding that bars are not included in the program. Lovold explained that the department decided to focus on restaurants to maximize the effect of the program, since people are apt to patronize bars specifically to drink.
Some of the restaurants included are the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Alice's Restaurant in Westwood Village and the Black Whale in Marina del Rey, Lovold said.
Buoyed by the success of the Westside program, Los Angeles Police Department traffic officers in the San Fernando Valley have persuaded 43 restaurants to join, and the department's South and Central traffic divisions are about to begin to recruit in those areas.
A citywide public relations campaign is in the works, and 34 other police departments in Los Angeles County have begun designated-driver programs, Lovold said.
And although it is nearly impossible to statistically evaluate the program's success in saving lives, it has been gaining widespread support and acceptance.
Once in a while, a restaurant rejects the idea as too expensive or bothersome. "Granted, they might lose a drink," Lovold said. "But they might keep a customer because they care."
Alice's Restaurant has been participating in the program for two years. General Manager Leo Lianf said it costs about $50 a week to offer designated drivers as much free coffee, tea or soft drinks as they want.
"But it helps a lot of people," Lianf said. "We like it this way."
Mothers Against Drunken Driving is a supporter of the Westside police program and is part of a designated-driver coalition that includes the California Highway Patrol and the county Sheriff's Department.
"So many crashes occur from people drinking in bars and restaurants, we feel it is the best way to get the point across--at the point of consumption," said John Geiran, administrator of the Los Angeles chapter of Mothers Against Drunken Driving.
Although injuries and deaths related to drunk driving rose steadily until 1987, since then the numbers both in Los Angeles and California have been dropping slightly, in part to increasing awareness of the need to choose a designated driver, Geiran said.