Larry Rivers, a dispatcher at C&F Towing in northern Virginia, is gearing up for New Year's Eve. He expects his drivers will tow a lot of people and their cars home tonight. But C&F won't make a penny. ``This is a free tow,'' he says. ``If we can take at least one intoxicated person home, there's a possibility of saving a life.'' And that, he says, is profit enough.
Across the country, grass roots companies like C&F Towing are trying to take the danger out of New Year's Eve. Restaurants, hotels, taxicabs, tow trucks, and various corporate sponsors are working on ways to keep customers sober or, failing that, deliver them home safely.
The effort comes amid two disturbing trends concerning drunk driving. First, after years of declining, the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities rose in 1986, and is expected to rise this year as well. In part, says Jeffrey Prince at the National Restaurant Association, that is because the anti-drunk-driving movement ``has matured and people may be getting a little bored with it.''
Second, 20 states may raise their speed limits to 65 miles per hour, and seven have already done so. ``Speed is quite often involved in alcohol traffic deaths,'' says Anne Russell, spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). As a result, the National Safety Council expects there will be more traffic fatalities this New Year's Weekend than last: as many as 480 this year, vs. 356 last year.
To reverse these trends, those at the front line are tackling intoxication with a battery of common-sense and creative measures.
Hotels and restaurants, for example, are coordinating to keep drunk drivers off the road. The Holiday Inn at Old Towne, Alexandria, Va. offers hotel rooms at $50 a night, far below the normal rate, to encourage people to ``take the elevator home,'' as general manager William Chrietzberg puts it.