Advertisement

Police Enlist 110 Restaurants in Campaign Against Drunk Driving : Safety: Proprietors will give free nonalcoholic beverages to designated drivers on New Year’s Eve. Officials say the program will be ongoing.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The way Ted Wasserman sees it, keeping his customers from driving home drunk is a sound business investment as well as a humanitarian endeavor.

“It’ll save a few lives, and it’ll save a few good customers too,” the restaurateur said with a chuckle. “I need my customers to come back.”

So on Monday, Wasserman, proprietor of the Alley Grill in Sherman Oaks, became one of about 110 restaurant owners around the San Fernando Valley to enlist in the biggest “designated driver” campaign in Valley history, sponsored by the Los Angeles Police Department, to keep off the road those who get into the holiday spirit on New Year’s Eve by quaffing holiday spirits.

Under the program, Wasserman and his staff will offer free nonalcoholic beverages to any patron who agrees to serve as sober chauffeur for the group.

Advertisement

“We hope to have all establishments in the San Fernando Valley trained” to take part in the program as soon as possible by continuing the program throughout the year, police spokesman Dennis Zine said.

The campaign, patterned after a similar program on the Westside, began in the Valley last year when a traffic officer enlisted about 50 businesses by Christmas, Zine said.

This year, just after Thanksgiving, Deputy Chief Mark A. Kroeker decided to expand the program, assigning 20 additional officers to work toward signing up 150 participating restaurants by the holidays, when there is usually more drunk driving.

Zine said members of the task force have targeted restaurants such as Wasserman’s rather than bars because restaurants attract groups of people rather than single patrons. “The focus has been where you can get that designated driver,” Zine said. “You’re not going to be able to get a designated driver in that bar environment because most of the time when you go to a bar . . . you go solo.

Advertisement

“And we’ve gone for the big chains because we can hit more people that way,” he said, citing the popular Red Onion restaurants as an example. “We’re hitting every major establishment on every major thoroughfare in the Valley.”

The Alley Grill, an upscale restaurant-bar that Wasserman said is frequented by show-business personalities, is one of several restaurants along Ventura Boulevard that have agreed to join the effort.

Monday afternoon, 24 hours before New Year’s Eve reveling was scheduled to begin in earnest, the grill’s crew assembled for a brief training session with Officer Alfred Avalos.

“It’s your responsibility to show some kind of interest and care for these people so that they come back and be customers again,” Avalos told his listeners, instructing them to urge their guests to select a teetotaler for the evening but not to become too insistent.

Advertisement

“We don’t want you to be losing business,” Avalos told them.

He also explained that staff members would be within their rights to charge a would-be cheater for all free beverages consumed if the staff were to catch that person nipping surreptitiously at a friend’s cocktail.

Zine said the success of last year’s campaign encouraged police to step up efforts, especially as the effectiveness of simply preaching against drunk driving has appeared to wane.

“We know the statement ‘Don’t drink and drive’ doesn’t have that much impact anymore because people hear it all the time and still do it,” he said. “They’ve become numb to the phrase. It’s been worn out.”

Advertisement

By the end of November last year, the Valley logged 1,780 alcohol-related traffic collisions.

At the same point this year, police had recorded 1,394 such accidents.

Zine attributes the drop to the designated-driver campaign and other measures, such as lowering the legal definition of drunk for drivers from a blood-alcohol content of 0.10% to 0.08%.


Advertisement
Advertisement