Too often, approaches to prevent drunk driving focus on “get tough” measures that harshly punish offenders; harsh punishment, after all, will dissuade not only those specific drivers from driving drunk again but also send a message to the community at large that they too should not drive drunk. In theory, this idea seems to make sense.
The problem, however, is that these types of programs deals with drunk driving AFTER the fact, relying on law enforcement to catch people in the act. Given that a first-time drunk driving offender has driven drunk an average of 87 times prior to being arrested, this approach would appear to be a too little too late, and wastes law enforcement resources on catching instead of preventing. A “smart on crime” approach would aim to prevent the crime from occurring in the first place.
Tow to Go
One such approach was created when Budweiser and AAA South forged a partnership with “Tow to Go,” a program that aims to prevent avoidable motor vehicle accidents by providing a free tow and ride home for intoxicated individuals. Since its inception in 1998, when AAA South and Gold Coast Eagle Distributors first partnered with Manatee County, Florida, the program has prevented over 8,600 intoxicated individuals from getting behind the wheel of their vehicles. In 2007 alone, AAA South received 1,652 calls. Not only does this program help the impaired driver get home safely, but it also protects other motorists from the hazard of drunk drivers on the road.
“Tow to Go,” currently running in Metro Atlanta, Metro Nashville, Savannah, and throughout the state of Florida, is open to all intoxicated adults in need of a ride home from a bar or restaurant, regardless of whether or not they are AAA members. The driver, a concerned friend or bar tender can call 1-800-AAA-HELP, where the ERS call service will dispatch a tow truck to take the intoxicated driver and his or her vehicle home, free of charge.
Initially run over the holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, the program has since expanded to include many of the holidays whose celebrations are closely associated with alcohol consumption: Super Bowl, St Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Halloween. The program frequently includes the days that surround the actual holiday from the 2009 schedule listed below:
Super Bowl—January 30th, 31st, February 1st
St. Patrick’s Day—March 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th
Cinco de Mayo—May 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th
Memorial Day—May 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th
Independence Day—July 3rd, 4th, 5th
Labor Day—September 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th
Halloween—October 30th, 31st
Thanksgiving – New Year’s Day—November 26th – January 2nd
Community Partnerships as Deterrence
The “Tow to Go” program is one of many community partnerships that aim to address the problems underlying criminal behavior. As opposed to interventions that aim to deter the offender from additional offending behavior, “Tow to Go” aims to prevent the intoxicated driver from getting on the road in the first place.
While organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have made tremendous strides in educating the public about the importance of designated drivers and friends that “don’t’ let friends drive drunk,” far too often intoxicated drivers allow their impaired mental state to cloud their judgment. Fearful of calling a friend or loved one to pick them up or unable to afford an expensive cab ride home, intoxicated drivers get behind the wheel of the car far too often, placing not only themselves but countless others in danger.
It’s understandable to want to punish such behavior and certainly understandable to expect that responsible adults have a safe plan for getting home BEFORE consuming alcohol. It also makes sense, however, to keep the community safe from the harm caused by drunk drivers by giving them alternative means to get home safely. “Tow to Go” does just that. It holds intoxicated drivers responsible for keeping the roads safe by giving them an alternative way home. Framed correctly, programs like “Tow to Go” are among the best forms of deterrence. Their problem-oriented approach deters the offender BEFORE they engage in dangerous criminal behavior, making life easier for law enforcement and preventing accidents beofre they happen.
Meridith Spencer is an adjunct Professor of Criminal Justice and Sociology at Bridgewater State College and Fisher College and an advocate for public policy that is “smart on crime.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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