Designated driving services ensure everyone gets home safely
It’s the moment you take that second drink, but know you still have your car. It’s the time you calculate you’ll have to wait for a cab. It’s the cost of getting all your friends home safely for the night. Designated driving services are redefining how Victorians experience the party scene, with more ways than ever before to get under the influence and not drive.
In 2009, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada estimated that a minimum of 1,074 people were killed in impairment-related car crashes across Canada, and approximately 63,338 people were injured. Two years after B.C. introduced Canada’s toughest provincial impaired-driving law, the Ministry of Justice estimates that, as of November, 104 lives have been saved and impaired driving has dropped significantly in B.C.
With a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 per cent now at Criminal Code threshold, impaired drivers in B.C. face immediate penalties that can take away their vehicle, their licence, and cost them anywhere from $600 to more than $4,000 in administrative and remedial program costs.
Cue Home Safely, the brainchild of Michael Hardie, 35, and Justin Wayne, 26. The service functions as an alternative to the classic cab: for a few dollars over taxi fare, drivers will come to collect both client and car. And with one chase car tailing the driver, Hardie and Wayne are able to ensure everyone who fits in the client’s car gets home safely.
The two men have worked for driving companies in the past, but after the death of two friends in highly publicized drunk-driving cases, they decided to turn their efforts into something more meaningful.
“I have lost a few friends from drinking and driving and, to be honest, I don’t want to lose any more,” says Wayne. “Our dream is to get all drunk drivers off our city streets, and make Victoria’s roads safer.”
In the early morning of July 16, 2003, at age 19, Beau Stirling was driving his 1963 Chevrolet Impala at speeds the RCMP would later determine reached 139 km/h. Wayne’s friend, Ken Hamilton, was killed along with another man. Court testimony indicated all four people in the car had been drinking and taking ecstasy. Stirling was convicted on two counts of criminal negligence causing death, and was sentenced to three years in jail.
In November the same year, Wayne and Hardie lost another friend, Jesse Briscoe, 17, who had been driving three friends on the TransCanada Highway near Saanich. According to police, the car was likely going double or triple the posted speed limit of 80 km/h when Briscoe lost control of the car, crossed the highway, struck the concrete divider and flipped over several times before slamming into an embankment on the other side of the road. Three, including Briscoe, were killed, one of whom was pregnant. One person in the car survived with severe injuries.
“We wanted to do something good for our community and our friends, and this seemed like the best option,” says Wayne. “You can still go out and have a good time, but you don’t need to get your car impounded or endanger everyone’s lives to do it.”
Last month, the two men drew on their team of driving friends to re-launch the business from an idea that first bloomed in 2005. But for Hardie, Home Safely is more than a ride — it’s a tribute.
“Back in 2005, my mom helped me with starting my own business. She came up with the name and the design of the business card, but she passed on over two years ago now with cancer,” says Hardie. “I would like to see this company grow in her memory.”
Mom, can you come get me?
Like Home Safely, a handful of other driving services have seen an increase in popularity. Call Mom Designated Driving Service has been delivering Victoria and Duncan residents for the last six years. Owner Kelly McGuire started her company after years of working in security at Sopranos Bar and Grill. McGuire now has a team of almost 20 drivers who field up to 150 calls each weekend.
“I just decided that I would rather deal with smart drunk people — the ones who call for a ride home,” says McGuire. “I’ve still seen some pretty wild things in this job, but it’s important to me to know we are taking people off the road before someone else does.”
Of those wild stories, one of McGuire’s favourites is the man who asked if he could pee out the window of his BMW.
“I told him, ‘Hey buddy, I can pull over right here,’ but he said ‘No, no, I’m in a hurry to get home. Do you mind?’ And with that, he unzipped his pants and there he went,” McGuire says with a laugh. “A few seconds later he was yelling ‘I think I’m spraying myself!’ and his girlfriend in the back started screaming ‘You’re spraying me!’”
If McGuire’s tale is any indication, the job requires a good sense of humour (or at least patience), a solid emergency plan (flashing brake lights at the chase car) and a hefty insurance plan. But while some criticize this type of service as encouraging people to take cars on the road when they plan on drinking, McGuire ensures it’s just the opposite: wait times are shorter, comfort is ensured and the price is barely more than a cab — drivers charge by the kilometre rather than time plus distance. For example, from Sopranos (730 Caledonia) to Cook Street Village is about $17, to UVic is $28 and to Brentwood Bay is $59.
“We will have people call us to drive them — in their cars — out for the evening and back again, just because they want to listen to their tunes and be comfortable in their cars and know they don’t have to wait on a cab later,” says McGuire. “And the people who are calling us are already making a responsible decision.”
Since the September 2010 launch of B.C.’s immediate roadside prohibition (IRP) program, the number of alcohol-related motor vehicle deaths decreased to an average of 62 a year, which represents a 46 per cent decrease from the average of 114 in each of the previous five years. These numbers well exceeded the government’s goal to reduce alcohol-impaired driving fatalities by 35 per cent by the end of 2013.
The provincial 2012 Roadside Alcohol and Drug Survey found that 44 per cent fewer drivers had a blood-alcohol content of 0.05 per cent and over, and nearly 60 per cent fewer drivers were at or over the Criminal Code threshold of 0.08 per cent. In Saanich and Vancouver particularly, the percentage of drivers with a blood-alcohol content at or above 0.08 per cent fell by 75 per cent between 2010 and 2012. The results also showed that levels of drinking and driving were the lowest recorded since 1995.
While McGuire is in the business of getting people home unharmed, she echoes a sentiment that has been heard through bars and cab companies: the new restrictions have affected business.
“Those guys who used to tell themselves ‘I’ll just have one beer’ knew they were lying to themselves, then would have to call a cab home, or whatever. Now that it’s one-beer-and-you’re-done, they just don’t go out,” she says. “That $4 beer is automatically a $20 cab ride, just for one. It’s not worth it; we’re feeling that, and the bars are feeling it, too.”
In the government’s survey, B.C. drivers aged 25 to 54 were most likely to have changed their behaviour as a result of the legislation, while those under 25 were most likely to say they never drink and drive.
Yet the government’s survey also found the prevalence of drug use by drivers was essentially unchanged from 2010. Currently, there is no instrument-based roadside test for drug impairment in Canada, but drivers can be required to submit to a blood test and a complete drug recognition evaluation.
“We still see it — impaired driving — and that’s the problem,” says VicPD Cst. Michael Russell.
Twenty nine impaired drivers were taken off Victoria and Esquimalt roads in VicPD’s first Counter Attack road check campaign, Nov. 29 to Dec. 3.
“Most people understand not to drink and drive, but some people forget that impairment includes drugs, too,” says Russell. “The message is simple, and it’s better to be talking to an officer on the side of the road than have to have an officer visit your family at home.” M
Numbers for your holiday blitz
- Home Safely: 788-677-HOME, service Thursday-Sunday, 6pm-3am.
- Call Mom Designated Driving Services: 250-507-6515, service 24 hours a day, every day.
- Drive Smart Designated Drivers: 250-661-0181, service Sunday-Thursday, 6pm-2am, Friday-Saturday, 6pm–3am.
- You And Your Car: 250-893-0834, service 365 days a year, 4pm to 4am; service available outside those hours when booked in advance.
- Designated Driver Services Corporation: 250-588-3008, service seven days a week, 8pm-5am.
Alternative to the alternative
When you’re really in the drink, here are a few extra options to get home safe.
- Taxi: Forgot all the cab numbers? “Taxi Guy” is a nationwide network of taxicab companies linked together through one toll-free phone number: 1-888-TAXIGUY. Calling #TAXI (#-8-2-9-4) from a cell phone provides direct access to the first available taxi company in the area anywhere in Canada — though a fee between $1.25 and $2 per call is charged. Users can also download the free #TAXI mobile app to launch a call using a smart phone’s GPS coordinates.
- Tow Trucks: Many towing companies will tow patrons and their vehicle home. While waits can sometimes be longer, tow trucks are typically less busy than cabs in a Saturday night pinch.
- BCAA: BCAA’s Safe-Ride-Home Service allows BCAA members one Safe-Ride-Home call per year for the driver and vehicle. 1-800-222-4357 (BCAA membership number required).
- Public Transit: BC Transit offers special holiday service on New Years Eve, with all rides free after 6pm. See schedules at: transitbc.com. Some bars and establishments will also offer bus tickets to ensure patrons arrive home safely.