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Revelers Offered Free, Safe Way Home : Holiday: New Year’s Eve drinkers have an alternative to getting behind the wheel.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While New Year’s Eve celebrators have been bombarded with messages urging them not to drink and drive, a quieter effort has been made to offer those who have been drinking a safe alternative to trying to swerve their way home.

Two taxi companies, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a hospital system, a beer distributor and a towing service are using their resources to offer drinkers free rides home.

“We’ll be able to handle anybody who calls,” said Larry Slagle, president of the Yellow Cab in North Orange County, one of two taxi companies offering free rides home in cooperation with MADD, CareUnit and Straub Distribution Co. “We won’t take you to another establishment, but we’ll take you home.”

Further, midnight will usher in not only the New Year but also a new state law that lowers the blood-alcohol level for drunk driving from 0.10 to 0.08.

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That means that many people who were legally considered sober enough to drive after a few drinks earlier in the evening may not be after midnight, and may need a ride home.

Even people whose blood-alcohol level is below the legal limit may be affected by their drinking, with altered judgment and slowed reflexes posing a danger to themselves and others on the road, authorities say.

Anyone who does not want to drive home is welcome to use the services, sponsors of the free ride programs said.

“All we want is to make sure they don’t have an accident on the way home,” Slagle said.

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CareCab and Taxi Time are the only free taxi services that have publicized their efforts among bars, nightclubs and police stations countywide. They will offer a combined force of about 300 cabs for free rides home.

Both services will take would-be drivers home or to a residence--provided there is no party in progress--within 20 miles for free, but for longer drives, riders will have to pay the difference.

CareCab, the 10th annual program co-sponsored by MADD and CareUnit Hospitals, will operate from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., every night from today to Jan. 2 and can be reached from anywhere in the county at (800) 422-4143.

Taxi Time, which is underwritten by Yellow Cab of North Orange County and Coast Yellow Cab, and publicized by Straub Distributing Co., runs 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. until Jan. 2. Calls to (714) 535-2211 or (714) 546-1311 must be placed by an employee of a bar or restaurant.

The Laguna Beach Police Department is also operating a taxi service, called Tipsy Taxi, which is not free and is available only to city residents by calling (714) 494-1121.

Slagle said that representatives from Straub distributed information about Taxi Time to area bars and restaurants to encourage employees to watch patrons and offer the service if they believe it is necessary.

Organizers of several large public New Year’s Eve parties throughout the county have not planned safe-ride programs of their own and expect to direct patrons to CareCab and Taxi Time.

For example, the Irvine Hilton and Towers boasts a nearly sold-out New Year’s Eve celebration in all its dinner, dancing and party rooms but has nothing particular planned for the number of potential drunk drivers resulting from the festivities. “Not all these people will be staying here in the hotel,” so party-goers will be referred to the free services, said Jim Martinez, a bellman at the hotel.

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As another alternative for North County residents, Tri-Star Towing is offering five of its rigs for free tow services and rides home for residents living in or near Fullerton, Brea, Placentia and Yorba Linda.

Owner Glenn Gorman said drivers should call (714) 771-7111 if they need a free tow. “All they have to do is call,” he said. “We’ll deliver them and their car to a safe place. . . . If you were going to drink and drive, there is an alternative.”

Law enforcement agencies will be out in full force tonight, with many city police employing extra officers for teams whose sole responsibility is to scout out people driving under the influence of alcohol.

In addition, the Anaheim police will set up sobriety checkpoints throughout the city. And the California Highway Patrol reminds drivers that they may be responsible for the cost of emergency roadside care--such as a response by paramedics--because state law allows emergency response agencies to bill drunk drivers for services.

All of those beefed-up law enforcement programs for New Year’s Eve come on top of the everyday monetary incentive to keep drivers off the roads if they have been drinking--namely, a potential $1,000 fine for first-time offenders, said Joe David of the CHP.

“We’ll be looking for them,” said Lt. John Foster of the Huntington Beach Police. “If they don’t have a (safe) ride home, we’ll give them one--to our ‘hotel.’ ” Foster was referring to the city jail.


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