Some California Highway Patrol officers refer to them as unguided missiles, looking for a place to explode. And in recent months, they have been going off in Malibu all too often.
They are drunk drivers, and they are the reason the Malibu CHP office is launching a designated-driver program in the coastal community this week, the first of its kind in Los Angeles County.
The program is designed to curb an alarming rise in the numbers of drunk driving-related accidents recorded by the CHP in Malibu last year, when 134 crashes were attributed to inebriated drivers, nearly a 50% increase from 1987. So far this year, the number of traffic accidents involving drivers under the influence has jumped 100%, the CHP says.
Special Driving Problems
Malibu is a prime location for party-hungry beach-goers, and the perilous mountain passes that snake between the West San Fernando Valley and the beach pose special driving problems, according to the CHP.
“We do have a DUI program (driving under the influence) problem, and you have to get people thinking about ways they can help,” CHP Lt. Rob Parris said. “Enforcement is important, but it’s not the key.”
The designated-driver program calls on participating Malibu restaurants to offer one person in a group free soft drinks and possibly appetizers and dessert for refraining from alcohol for the evening. About 15 restaurants, including Alice’s, Beaurivage, Geoffrey’s, La Scala, Gladstone’s and Splash, have agreed to participate in the public service program.
Recently, CHP Officer Cliff Williams has been training waiters and waitresses on how to pitch the program to patrons, and the servers will begin handing out designated-driver pins and decals to participants when the program kicks off Friday night.
Williams said the program doesn’t promote drunkenness by passengers riding with a designated driver because the laws restricting restaurants from serving inebriated patrons are not affected.
In conjunction with the start of the program, the CHP will set up a sobriety checkpoint on Pacific Coast Highway Friday night, with up to 20 CHP officers involved, Parris said.
“We will use every possible way we have of influencing this community about the problem,” Parris said.
400 Programs Nationwide
The National Transportation and Highway Safety office estimates that there are about 400 other designated-driver programs across the county. The Malibu program is based on others launched by the CHP in Santa Barbara and Ontario.
Tom Campbell, public information officer for the Santa Barbara CHP, said that since the program began in June, the number of restaurants that have signed up has nearly tripled. More importantly, he said, the number of drunk driving-related accidents and arrests have decreased by more than 50%.
“The results that we’ve gotten have been very encouraging,” Campbell said. “Anytime you can reduce the number of times your officers are tied up for several hours for an arrest or an accident, you’re going to be in better shape. It’s been very successful.”
Merchants in the Malibu area say the program will be especially helpful in the spring and summer months when millions of beach-goers and tourists descend on the community.
“I think it’s a good way to go,” said Mary Alice Pierce, manager of Alice’s restaurant on the Malibu pier. “I know personally that every summer, we see a lot of drunk-driving accidents because so many people come out to the beach to party. I’ve seen people get hit trying to cross the highway.
“There’s not going to be any pressure for us to try and get people to do the (designated driver) program. But even if it only saves one life, then it’s a good program.”
Parris said if the Malibu program is successful, he expects that it will be used as a model for other communities in Los Angeles.
“When you go to the source of where the alcohol is being served and instill a sense of personal responsibility, it can make a difference,” Parris said.