Safe Rides Puts the Brakes on Dangerous Teen Driving


Spring break is here, and thousands of San Diego County high school students are ready to party.

But the party atmosphere sometimes brings danger and even death to the roads, where thousands of American teens die in alcohol-related car crashes each year.

Teen volunteers with San Diego County’s Safe Rides program are fighting to keep the danger out of spring break--and ordinary weekends--by giving their peers a ride home from parties, or from just about anywhere.


“This is students helping students,” said Dawn McGovern, a sophomore at Helix High School who has been involved with the program in East County since it began last year.

“We give lots of different people rides home, and sometimes we get intoxicated people, so we bring a bucket with us,” McGovern said. “Or maybe we’ll get kids who just need a ride home from their friend’s house.

“I’d say about 85% of them are intoxicated. I’d rather have them go home with people who know what they’re doing.”

Safe Rides, offered to youths between the ages of 14 and 20, operates from five places throughout the county, and was started by the Boy Scouts of America to deal with problems like drunk driving, gang violence and date rape.

The countywide program offers young people a way out of these kinds of situations, without them having to call their parents for a ride and face getting into trouble at home.

“Even if kids aren’t into drinking, they’ll feel pressure to do so because that’s what they are supposed to do,” said attorney Vaughan de Kirby, sponsor of the East County program. “One criticism of the program is that it somehow encourages kids to drink, but that is just not the case. The reality is that kids are going to find themselves in trouble, and there’s a program there to help.”

For instance, De Kirby said, a young woman could become uncomfortable on a date, or at a party, and be too embarrassed to call her parents for a ride home. At the same time, she doesn’t want her parents to know that she became uncomfortable, because they might not let her see her boyfriend again.

“Compared with the last two years, the abuse of teens related to gangs, drinking and date rape is going down. . . . We feel we are making a contribution,” said Michael Newman, director of the Boy Scouts Explorers and coordinator of Safe Rides.

Every Friday and Saturday night, at the five dispatch sites around the county, student volunteers from different high schools get together from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. to wait for the calls, often while watching a video and eating pizza.

The Point Loma/La Jolla Safe Rides program has about 90 volunteers and nets up to 25 calls per weekend, said Melanie Nickel, Point Loma’s Safe Rides adviser. That program, which started five years ago and gave 800 rides during the 1990 school year.

Although an adult adviser is present at the dispatch center, the students are the ones who answer the phones and give the rides. Each car that goes out is equipped with a flashlight, a bucket, a first aid kit, a CB radio and a map, McGovern said.

Two teen volunteers, one of each sex, are always present in the pick-up cars to make riders feel as comfortable as possible.

“This is totally confidential, and there are no strings attached,” McGovern said. “We all talk a lot in the car, but you can’t go to school the next day and spread it around. We just drop them off and make sure they get in OK and then take off.”