It's probably not surprising that the phone would ring early and often for anyone offering free rides home to people who are too drunk--or who expect to get too drunk--to drive on New Year's Eve.
"We've gotten calls as early as 9 or 10 in the morning," said Mike Kahiczak of Prime Time Shuttle International Inc., the Burbank-based company that for six years has offered rides to people in Orange County, Los Angeles and Ventura.
"It's free and there are no conditions, only we have to take people directly home," he said. "We continually have calls from people who ask us to take them from one bar to another.
"And we don't take reservations," Kahiczak said. "Every year people call us up and say, 'I plan to be at such and such a place ripped out of my mind. Can you come and pick me up at say, one o'clock?' "
In addition to Prime Time Shuttle, which fields between 100 and 300 calls each New Year's Eve for its Red Van Program, a nonprofit Hollywood-based program run by Road Angels sends two people out to make sure tipsy callers and their cars get home safely.
Laguna Beach police also will be available to pick up city residents and drive them home, as they do year-round.
"A lot of times the calls come from a responsible party host or family member," said Road Angels spokesman Gary Camponia. "We do get hundreds of calls from people who think we're a taxi service, but if you haven't driven to where you're calling us from, then obviously you're not a danger to others so we're not picking you up."
Last New Year's Eve, Camponia said, the company sent cars to about 80 callers in Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Ventura and Kern counties.
In the past, the organization has received only a few calls from Orange County, but this New Year's Eve Camponia said he expects to get many more.
"This is the first time ever that this is going to be a full-blown operation in Orange County," Camponia said. "In part that's because we've been much more in the [public eye] so we're expecting two or three times as many calls this year."
Two local companies will serve as headquarters for drivers, Camponia said: Team Real Estate in Irvine and Fred Sands Costal Properties in Monarch Beach.
"Some of our people will be like bees, going three or four times to the exact same party or to the exact same bar--back and forth," Camponia said.
With 1.7 million licensed drivers, Orange County accounts for about 7% of all drunk driving injuries and 3.9% of fatalities in the state, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
In Orange County in 1995, 53 people died in alcohol-related accidents, and 15,925 people were arrested.
"This year we're encouraging people to plan ahead by choosing a designated driver prior to partying," said Reidel Post, executive director of the Orange County chapter of MADD.
"For some reason it's a really difficult concept to get through to people that the designated driver needs to be completely sober," Post said. "Time and again we hear people say, 'Well, I was the designated driver because I'd had the least amount to drink,' but that person's supposed to be the life insurance policy for the evening."
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Need a Ride?
Two organizations will provide rides on New Year's Eve for those who have too much to drink. The names and numbers:
* Road Angels
* Prime Time Shuttle International Inc.