Tackling drunk driving

January 03, 1992

Maryland officials making their New Year's resolutions might want to look to Baltimore County's Office of Substance Abuse. For the third consecutive year, the county put together an impressive coalition from the public and private sectors to save lives during the holiday season -- a time when, traditionally, too many people slug down one last Bloody Mary and then hit the road.

The program builds on the growing nationwide intolerance for drinking and driving, which, like cigarette smoking, is fast

becoming socially unacceptable. But not fast enough.

Today, even with changing attitudes about drunk driving, 45 percent of all traffic fatalities are still alcohol-related. It ought to be obvious by now that party-goers need more than pedantic caution; they need a way to translate good intentions into reality. That is the void the county's holiday program fills.

This year, the Office of Substance Abuse used 14 public libraries to distribute 2,000 holiday party kits, which contained information on how to host a safe party -- from recipes for non-alcoholic drinks to myths about drinking and suggestions for what foods to serve to mitigate the effects of drinking. The kits also contained "designated driver" buttons for those who volunteered to abstain from alcohol for an evening, free Breathalyzers so party-goers could determine, before getting behind the wheel, whether they ought to be driving at all -- and a list of taxi services for those who shouldn't.

Though the county itself was the engine behind the project, thdriving force was community-wide participation.

Area bars and clubs pitched in, giving free soda and food to people wearing the buttons. County police patrolled roads vigorously, and one local company offered free towing services for intoxicated drivers on New Year's Eve. Public libraries were critical, but so too were the private taxi and towing companies that got on board and the county chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which paid for the Breathalyzers.

No one-shot program is, of course, going to solve the drinkinand driving problem. But Baltimore County's holiday program stands as a model of the kind of innovative policy that can be affected when government, the private sector and community groups work together.

Particularly in these tight budget times, that ought to be something other jurisdictions want to duplicate and expand on.

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