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Program Keeps Students, Roads a Little Safer

Times Staff Writer

For many teen-agers, the prospect of a Halloween weekend stokes their already refined partying instincts. But 19-year-old Tonia Sieg’s weekend evenings will be spent like most others this fall--sitting in a small El Cajon law office, waiting for phone calls.

Along with several other teen-agers and adults, Sieg is volunteering her weekend and holiday nights to Safe Rides, a program that ferries students--no strings attached, no questions asked--who are too drunk to drive or too wary to ride with a drunken friend. Students who call 447-SADD are picked up and transported to a safe destination.

So far this year, about 5,550 people in San Diego have been arrested for drinking under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both, police spokesman Bill Robinson said. And, on Halloween, streets will be more congested because of trick-or-treaters, he said.

“The majority of revelers during Halloween are younger drinkers,” Robinson said.

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“The problem is always there, yet exacerbated during holidays. That’s why there’s an increase in publicity on parental precaution around this time--to make drivers and parents aware of the dangers that may exist.”

In an effort to keep drunk drivers off the roads and help vulnerable passengers, the El Cajon Valley Safe Rides program, situated in attorney Vaughn de Kirby’s East County law office, has reopened its doors after closing for the summer.

According to Safe Rides spokesman De Kirby, the program needs more people with the benevolence of Sieg, who has earned the title of East County post coordinator.

“Being involved in the program, you give up a lot, but you get a lot in return--a feeling that you’re helping someone who could have been hurt or killed,” he said.

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In addition to El Cajon, other Safe Rides programs serve Rancho Bernardo, Fallbrook, Poway, Rancho Penasquitos, Point Loma and Torrey Pines.

The program, now in its fifth year, is geared toward teen-agers from 16 to 18 years old, but the need for volunteers is so great that Sieg is willing to compromise.

“All drivers must be at least 16, licensed and insured,” she said. “But we’ll take kids as young as 13 for other positions, such as note taker, dispatch helper and other miscellaneous duties, including eating munchies that we’ll have for the crew--it can be a fun thing for juniors and sophomores to do on the weekend.”


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