Friday, Dec. 18, 2009 | 5:28 p.m.
Law enforcement officials have begun reaching out to local bars and taverns to remind people that anyone can be arrested for driving under the influence, even Santa Claus.
The Nevada Department of Public Safety and State Farm Insurance are supporting the annual Home for the Holidays campaign, which offers people who have too much to drink a free ride home.
More than 30 bars in the area have signed on to display signs and buttons that show Santa behind bars with the message: Anyone can be arrested for DUI.”
And a free ride is much better than the alternative. Getting arrested for driving under the influence can bring fines of $13,000 for a first-time offense.
Nevada Highway Patrol, Metro and other law enforcement agencies will be working together to arrest people who drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the holidays.
“Metropolitan Police Department and all agencies in Nevada are going to be out there with a zero tolerance to drunk driving for the remainder of the holidays,” Sgt. Richard Strader from Metro said. “You’ll see our vehicles out there, you’ll see us out there in force working in conjunction with all the other agencies to make sure this is a safe holiday for everybody within the state.”
NHP Sgt. Kevin Honea said about 200 extra officers from the different agencies will be patrolling Clark County between now and New Years.
“Those officers are out there specifically to identify that impaired driver and get that person off the road before they crash killing themselves or somebody else,” Honea said. “You’re going to see a very increased officer presence. We are out there. We will identify you and we will get you off the road.”
But anyone can use the free ride home service from today to Jan. 3, whether they are at a bar, casino, a company party or someone else’s home.
Designated Drivers takes the calls at 456-RIDE, and sends two drivers out to pick the person and their passengers up. They then give the people a ride home in their own car, with the second driver following to pick up the other driver when they are done.
The company offers the service year around, but uses donations to offer the rides for free during the holidays.
“The more people we can take off the road and drive home safely in their vehicles, the less people that they (the police officers) have to scrape up off the ground, and that’s a horrible thought that anybody has to do such a terrible job,” Designated Drivers Chief Executive Billie Smith said.
Last year, the company transported 1,100 vehicles in the 11 days the service was offered for free. Since most of those vehicles carried more than one person, that means 2,400 people got home safely, Smith said.
Smith said it cost $68,000 to run the program last year. Since this year’s free period is longer, it will cost even more, but the company has received only $50,000 so far.
Individuals can donate to the company’s non-profit foundation, which pays for the free rides, by going to designateddriversfoundation.org.
Smith also hopes to get more support from casinos and bars, especially those in the resort corridor, so they can expand the program to other drinking-heavy holidays.
Most of the 400 to 600 people who get a ride on New Year’s Eve come from the resort corridor, Smith said. But in 12 years of service, the group has had little support from the tourism industry.
And the free rides benefit their businesses, he said.
“A person knowing that they have a free ride home with their vehicle will stay in a bar longer, they’ll stay in a casino longer, they’ll gamble more, they’ll drink more, they’ll eat more,” Smith said.
Mary Alice Rasmuson, the co-owner of T-Bird Lounge, said her three locations have helped out with the program for years and the customers like it.
“They come back and they’re appreciate of us making sure they’re home safe,” she said.
Honea said the highway patrol isn’t trying to hurt a bar’s business by cracking down on drunken drivers.
“If you’re 21 years old, the message has never been don’t drink. Our message has been don’t drink and drive” he said.
But you should plan ahead and drink responsibly.
“Don’t wait until you’re intoxicated and your judgment’s impaired to decide how you’re going to get home from those parties,” said NHP Maj. Kevin Tice. “You don’t want to find yourself in a cell at the Clark County Detention Center making that uncomfortable call. Have a plan in place. Have a prearranged designated driver, get a cab to the party and a cab ride home, or use Designated Driver.”
In addition to the Designated Driver program, the Regional Transportation Commission will be offering free bus service throughout the valley from 6 p.m. New Year’s Eve to 9 a.m. New Years Day.
And a special free bus service will run from the Centennial Hills Transit Center – which will be open for the holiday in advance of its official opening later – to downtown and the Strip.
That service will run every 20 minutes from 5 p.m. New Year’s Eve to 4 a.m. the next day.