The Automobile Club of Southern California is offering its free Tipsy Tow service during the New Year’s Eve holiday for the 20th year. The community service, which over two decades has taken thousands of drinking drivers off the road on New Year’s Eve, is available from 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 31, to 6 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 1, to help remove drinking drivers from the road. Tipsy Tow is available in the 13 Southern California counties served by the Auto Club.
The Auto Club encourages party-goers to plan ahead for a sober ride or use a designated driver if attending a gathering. But if those plans fall through, motorists, bartenders, restaurant managers, party hosts or passengers of a drinking driver may call 1-800-400-4AAA for a free tow home of up to seven miles. Callers simply tell the Auto Club operators, “I need a Tipsy Tow,” to receive the free tow and ride home. A regular Auto Club-contracted roadside service truck will be dispatched. The Auto Club’s free service is unique in that it transports both the driver and the vehicle.
Callers need to keep in mind that the service excludes rides for passengers, is restricted to a one-way, one-time ride for the driver and the destination is limited to the driver’s residence. Reservations are not accepted. For rides farther than seven miles, drivers can expect to pay the rate charged by the tow truck contractor.
Drinking drivers frequently don’t plan for other ways to get home because they are concerned about retrieving their vehicle the next day. They cite taxi costs and inconvenience as reasons they don’t use alternate transportation, according to the Auto Club.
“Drivers should be aware of the high crash risk from drinking and driving associated with holidays, and we urge them not to get behind the wheel if they’ve been drinking,” said Anita Lorz Villagrana, the Auto Club’s community programs and traffic safety manager.
New Year’s Eve is a traditional time for family gatherings, parties, restaurant outings and activities that contribute to a more relaxed atmosphere and more opportunities for drinking alcohol, according to Lorz Villagrana, and the holiday is widely regarded as the most dangerous holiday night of the year.
“It only takes one or two drinks to slow physical and mental skills that affect vision, steering, braking judgment, and reaction time,” she said. “Drivers should be aware that the California Highway Patrol and law enforcement agencies use sobriety checkpoints and extra patrols to look for drinking drivers during the holiday.”
California law enforcement officials arrest large numbers of DUI offenders every year. In 2013, an estimated 160,000 drivers were arrested for the offense, enough to fill Dodger Stadium three times. “The toll from drinking and driving in California is enormous,” said Lorz Villagrana. In California, 24,000 individuals were killed or injured in alcohol-related crashes in 2013, she added. That includes 105 persons on New Year’s Eve/Day (from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m., a rate three-and-a-half times higher than on other days of the year.)
A recent AAA report found that 10 percent of motorists admit to driving when they thought their blood alcohol content was above the legal limit. “This is entirely preventable,” said Lorz Villagrana.
People convicted of driving under the influence could lose many of the things they value most in their lives, such as family, job, dignity and money. The Auto Club estimates that a first-offense misdemeanor DUI conviction in California for an adult age 21 or older can cost approximately $15,688 or more in fines, penalties, restitution, legal fees and increased insurance costs. Costs related to DUI have risen sharply in recent years largely due to a large increase in fines and insurance for DUI drivers. The estimated cost of a first-offense misdemeanor DUI for those under age 21 is $22,500.
Current laws, enforcement, public awareness, and education efforts by public service-oriented organizations, including the Auto Club, have contributed to the decline in the number of alcohol-related fatalities during the past 13 years. The Auto Club provides the Tipsy Tow service and free publications as part of its “You Drink. You Drive. You Lose.” public awareness campaign. Although Tipsy Tow is offered by the Auto Club and other AAA clubs, it is not a nationwide program. Check with your local AAA club for availability.
The Auto Club advises that motorists can keep themselves and others safe and can avoid DUI arrests by keeping these safety tips in mind:
- Always plan ahead to designate a non-drinking driver before any party or celebration begins.
- At social events, designate non-drinking drivers who can get everyone home safely.
- Never serve alcohol to those under age 21. It’s illegal and dangerous.
- Never ride as a passenger in a car driven by someone who was drinking alcohol – even after one drink.
- Call a friend or family member for a ride home if you’ve been drinking.
- Keep a cab/sober ride telephone number in your cell phone and wallet so you can call for a ride home.
- As a party host, offer non-alcoholic drink alternatives and provide a gift to guests who volunteer to be designated drivers; provide overnight accommodations to guests who’ve been drinking.
- Take the car keys away from friends and relatives who have had too much to drink.
- If you encounter an impaired driver on the road, keep a safe distance and ask a passenger to call 9-1-1 (or pull over to a safe location to make the call yourself).
- Remember that prescription, over-the-counter medications and illegal drugs also can impair your ability to drive safely and can often sharply increase the impairing effects of alcohol.