Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 24, 2012

Red Cross to discontinue Safe Ride program

Former volunteer offers to host meeting on future of program that offers rides to intoxicated teens

by Chris Kenrick

A former volunteer has offered to convene a community meeting about the future of Safe Ride, a recently ended program that provided car rides to intoxicated teenagers on Friday and Saturday nights.

Becky Beacom, manager of health education for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and a former Safe Ride volunteer, said she would be willing to host a meeting of parties interested in brainstorming about other possible programs to address teen drinking and driving.

The Red Cross Silicon Valley, sponsor of the 27-year-old program, announced last week it will discontinue Safe Ride Sept. 5 due to lack of funding and dwindling volunteer power.

The program was launched in 1984 after a 17-year-old Palo Alto student's death in a drunk-driving-related accident the previous year.

It used adult and student volunteers to field requests and provide free, confidential rides to teens who called in between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights during the school year. Teens could call in for any reason, including wanting to avoid getting into a car with someone who had been drinking.

But organizers said they had had trouble filling Safe Ride volunteer shifts in recent years. Last year the program provided about 200 rides, down from more than 600 in 2007-08.

"It remains our hope to transfer responsibility to another agency whose mission more closely aligns with Safe Ride," Barb Larkin, CEO of American Red Cross Silicon Valley Chapter, said in announcing closure of the program.

"We are proud to have partnered with teams from nine extraordinary high schools who worked tirelessly to support the Safe Ride program over the last 27 years."

Schools most recently participating in the program were Castilleja, Gunn, Los Altos High School, Menlo School, Summit Preparatory High School, Mountain View High School, Menlo-Atherton High School, Sacred Heart School and Woodside High School.

Larkin said the Red Cross decided to focus its limited resources on its core mission of disaster preparedness and response.

The Safe Ride program was initiated by students from Palo Alto and Gunn high schools after Scott Safreed, 17, was killed May 29, 1983, in an Embarcadero Road accident with a 16-year-old drunk driver.

Beacom said liability and staffing issues would make it difficult to replace Safe Ride as it was but added it is worth a community discussion.

"The Red Cross deserves a huge thank you for having taken this on for so many years," she said.

"I think there's still a lot of goodwill about trying to do something. It's good for teens to know that this exists, that there are alternatives.

"This is a leadership program for students, and it needs staffing, supervision and management."

Beacom said she can be contacted at beacomb@pamf.org.

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