BUFFALO, NY - The 4th of July Holiday brings with it all the usual admonishments to celebrants to not drink and drive.
This year, Erie County will also use the occasion to launch a pilot program to help boost an existing effort which aims to transport intoxicated persons, and their cars, home safely.
The county will use $19,000 in excess STOP-DWI funds, donated by beer distributors, restaurateurs, and other private entities, to expand the now four year old Designated Drivers of Buffalo program.
Designated Drivers of Buffalo assists someone who has had too much to drink by sending a pair of uniformed drivers, one of whom will take the wheel of the intoxicated person's car and drive them home in it, while another follows and then picks up the designated driver after the person who called for assistance arrives homes safely.
Proponents say it encourages more people to call for help because the person being assisted doesn't have to worry about leaving their car behind, which is believed by some to be a factor in the choice some drivers make to risk driving drunk.
Those who avail themselves of the service should know they'll be expected to pay for it, although the amount is a comparatively small price to pay as opposed to what a DWI might cost you,...even if you don't injure or kill someone.
Designated Drivers of Buffalo charges those they help a flat fee ($25-$30) plus a fee for mileage ($2.50-$3.00 per mile).
Money being supplied by the STOP-DWI office will cover the cost of the flat fee through the course of the pilot program being launched this week.
The funds will also be used to enhance awareness that the program exists, both among bar patrons and those who serve alcohol.
"A large component of this program is the education of bartenders, waitresses, and management...we are willing to go in and to give them an education on how to recognize drunk folks in their bar," said John Glascott, Erie County's Commissioner for Central Police Services.
And while one might assume that a bartender or server would easily know if someone was not in shape to drive, Glascott says such an assumption might not always be correct.
"Not always. If you have a bar full of people you're not concentrating on one or two individuals. You could be distracted....and you have to remember they can tend to get distracted...the signs between a .05, .08, or 1.0 (BAC) may not be that disparate," Glascott said.
The success of this particular anti-DWI program, however, is like any other; in that it depends largely on a person's willingness to ask for help.
"There are always going to be drunk people who will never call for help and who end up on the road," conceded Glascott. "But there is that percentage out there who will realize they are intoxicated and will take the advice of their friendly bar tender and will hopefully take advantage of the program."
"If we can stop even one person from getting behind the wheel in a situation where they are drunk we've done a good thing," added Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. "And we know this program will not stop one, but stop many," he said.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Norm Fisher.
Click here for more information on Designated Drivers of Buffalo, and how to obtain their help if you need it.