Free Taxi Rides Aim to Keep Drunks Off Road : Holidays: LAPD distributes vouchers at police stations and restaurants for anyone to use for a ride home through Jan. 1.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Police Department has a new plan to sweep drunk partyers off the road this holiday season: vouchers for free taxi rides home.

Through Jan. 1, anyone within Los Angeles city limits can use a voucher good for seven miles with any of the 10 authorized city taxicab companies.

About 50,000 vouchers, each a $12 value, are available at many Los Angeles restaurants and all police stations, said Officer Tom Souza, a traffic officer who started the program this year.

The LAPD is coordinating the offer; the cab companies are paying for the rides.

"In the spirit of the holidays, it seemed like a good idea to help [the LAPD] achieve their goal of less drunk people on the street," said Dennis Rouse, senior vice president of L.A. Taxi.

Besides, he added, "They hit us, too."

Souza said arresting and jailing drunk drivers does little to prevent them from driving drunk again.

"People are still running into each other and killing each other," he said.

Last December in Los Angeles County, 26 people died and 1,079 were injured in alcohol-related automobile accidents, said California Highway Patrol Officer Rob Lund. Souza, a traffic officer for 28 years, also started the LAPD's "Paddy Wagon" program for St. Patrick's Day in 1990. The free citywide van service took about 300 revelers home last year.

"Imagine all the people not getting hit because they were off the road," Souza said. "Maybe one person didn't get killed--that makes it worth it."

Police run a similar van program for Cinco de Mayo, on May 5, another popular drinking holiday.

Although extra CHP officers will be out in force through Dec. 25 to arrest drunk drivers, some sheriff's deputies in the City of Industry area will hand out tickets of another kind.

Through Jan. 2, deputies will be stopping good drivers and passing out free hockey tickets and one-month gym memberships, said Sgt. Tim Murakami.

Motorists will get either tickets to see the Ice Dogs hockey team or a trial membership at a fitness club that is sponsoring the program.

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