Part 3 in a Series on Safe Rides
By Leslie Yager
The rumors are true. Greenwich Red Cross has ended Safe Rides as we know it.
Reached by phone, Andrew Sindell, Manager-Volunteer Resources at Red Cross Metro NY North Chapter, confirmed thathis organization is focusing on disaster relief. Considered a “prevention” program, Safe Rides is no longer a good fit and has been dropped.
Reached by phone, Greenwich Youth Services Coordinator Jenny Byxbee said she hopes townspeople will fight for the program. Last month Byxbee joined forces with a group of teens and Sgt. Thorme of Greenwich Police to offer safe rides to teens the night of junior prom.
Byxbee described the night as a success and was particularly impressed with the teen volunteers.
“More and more wanted to come down and join the effort. They said it was fun and that they’d like to do it again,” Byxbee said, adding that many of the students gave up their own prom to volunteer.
Byxbee said she’d like to see another effort for the night of senior prom, but even more, would like to see Safe Rides take a more permanent shape. “The youth commission and police could run it,” Byxbee said.
Darien Safe Rides: Zero Alcohol Related Teen Driving Deaths in 30 Years
Two towns to the east, Darien, where the first ever Safe Rides program took shape 30 years ago, might provide a model:
- Darien Safe Rides drivers use their family cars.
- The program runs from the town’s teen center, The Depot.
- Darien Safe Rides service runs Friday and Saturday nights from 10:00pm to 1:00am.
- Darien Safe Rides drivers are required to carry $300,000 of insurance.
- The Town of Darien carries supplemental insurance for the program.
Alicia Sillars, the Darien Youth Coordinator, who formerly served as Director of the Depot, is very familiar with Safe Rides. She said partly due to the Town’s involvement, teens are very serious about their commitment.
Sillars said there are some serious rules. For example, drivers are forbidden to cross the Darien Town line during their shift. “If they come back with a McDonald’s bag, they know they’re in trouble,” she said. There is no McDonald’s in Darien. Also, juniors must wait until their second semester to have the privilege of driving.
Parent volunteers collect the paperwork and each teen’s parents are asked to be on premises at The Depot, during a shift.
In Darien, there are about seven teams, each with a leader, whereas in Greenwich, at its peak Safe Rides had 12 teams of 10-12 students.
“The teens lead the program,” said parent volunteer Rosanne Olsen. “They know it’s a privilege to drive for Darien Safe Rides,” said Olsen, describing the culture of the program. “We put the more experienced drivers on the road. She said juniors aren’t allowed to drive for Safe Rides until their second semester.
Family Cars instead vs Red Cross Fleet
When Greenwich Safe Rides operated through Red Cross and had use of their vehicles, the younger volunteers served as “riders” who could take a cell phone call or check the map from the passenger seat. However, the rider would need to rouse their parent from slumber for a ride home after their shift at 2:00am.
In general after 9:00 or 10:00pm, there is a good percentage of people on the road who have been drinking or are otherwise impaired, including parents. Under Darien’s model, when Safe Rides drivers use the family car, Olsen said the driver often gives the “rider” a life home at the end of the shift.
Olsen said that Darien Safe Rides has played a part in a culture change where teen drinking and driving is concerned. Olsen, with a teen in college and a second headed to college in the fall, said, as a rule, teens just don’t drink and drive these days. She said they make a plan if alcohol is a variable in their plans, they designate a driver and know to call Safe Rides if some part of the plan goes awry.
Sillars said Safe Rides is more than a life home for a drunk kid. “It’s a confidential ride home for a boy out with his buddies who feels uncomfortable in the moment. It’s a ride for a boy out on a date. There are so many scenarios.”
“It’s so much more than a free ride,” Olsen said. “The program makes drinking and driving uncool. It takes the pressure off,” she said. “They carry that with them when they head off to college. That’s the less on that’s invaluable. They just don’t do it. They don’t drink and drive.”
“I think our kids are looking for something to do on weekends and it’s a positive thing,” Olsen said, emphasizing the amount of responsibility the team leaders and teen volunteers take on. “The teens run the program. They like to be able to help their friends out. They like to keep their friends safe.”
Darien First Selectman Stevenson: “ It saves lives. It’s a wonderful way to teach young people to take responsibility.”
Reached by phone Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, who has five children of her own, and was very active in the public schools before becoming First Selectman, was adamant that Safe Rides has saved lives.
Stevenson said that insurance was a concern when the Red Cross stopped sponsoring the program in Darien, but said that her town has taken a part by providing the supplemental insurance. She describes the program as part of the fabric of the community. “It saves lives. It’s a wonderful way to teach young people to take responsibility,” she said.
Working Together: Safe Rides and Students Against Destructive Decisions
Stevenson said that Safe Rides works in conjunction with Students Against Destructive Decisions (formerly Students Against Drunk Driving). Together, Stevenson said the organizations have a dramatic impact.
“The more we can support and encourage the model of students helping students the better,” Stevenson said.
Sillars echoed Stevenson’s sentiment. She pointed out that back in 1980 there were no cell phones. The challenge was changing a culture in which drinking and driving were not uncommon. “Back then there weren’t cell phones, so the focus was not on distracted driving like it is today.”
Darien: Zero Alcohol Related Driving Deaths of Teens in 30+ Years
Thirty years ago, Darien’s program was the brainchild of Jane Hanley, who was moved to do something after a string of teen alcohol-related driving deaths in the late 1970s. Hanley, a mother of eight, operated the program out of the YMCA as an explorer post.
“That was how they got insurance and their own phone line,” Sillars recalled.
Like Greenwich, Darien Safe Rides Nearly Vanished
Recently at the GHS health fair, Darien High School senior Jackie Brokaw, an intern with the volunteer Square’s Rachel Reese, mentioned her involvement with Darien Safe Rides when she heard people talking about the end of Greenwich Safe Rides.
“I think the students would totally fight for it if it was us,” Brokaw said, not knowing that several years ago the Darien program almost did come to an end.
For a time, Safe Rides in Darien was affiliated with Red Cross. Darien Youth Coordinator Alicia Sillars said, “We almost lost it when Red Cross dropped our program three years ago.”
Everyone interviewed for this article acknowledged and refuted the common refrain: It’s just a free taxi service.
“I hope Greenwich does re-embrace the idea because it saves lives,” Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said.
Visit the Darien Depot website.
CORRECTION: A quote was misattributed to Jenny Byxbee, that has since been removed.
By Courtney Oarr and Matt Pignataro Reaction at Greenwich High School to Closing of Safe Rides
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