“How many drinks have I had? How do I feel?”
“Can I drive?”
That may be the next question countless Canadians ask themselves this holiday season.
We’ve all seen the headlines, yet, as much we want to believe it will never happen to us or to those we love – it does.
Drunk driving is a choice that people still make with about one-third of traffic fatalities, about 744 Canadians, killed in crashes that involved a drinking driver in 2010. Driving under the influence is preventable and less socially acceptable than ever before, but Canadian still drive drunk. In the 2014 Traffic Injury Research Foundation report, 6.6% of Canadians admitted to driving when they thought they were over the legal limit and 17.4% admitted to driving after consuming alcohol.
Avoid the risk! Call a cab, take public transit or negotiate a sleepover, but if that’s not an option, call Operation Red Nose, a free, confidential, non-profit, volunteer-based driver service for motorists and their vehicles. It began in Quebec over 30 years ago and now operates in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick. Can anyone use Operation Red Nose? Yes, but you must have a vehicle because it’s not a taxi service. Reservations are not accepted and it’s wise to call 30 to 60 minutes before you want to leave.
Rides are typically given to people who have had a few beverages, but are available to anyone who doesn’t feel able to drive safely for whatever reason, for example fatigue after a nightshift or overwrought after an argument. No judgment. No questions asked. It’s all about getting home safely and there is no limit on the number of calls in an evening.
Last year, Operation Red Nose and its 52,064 volunteers provided 76,105 rides to drivers and their vehicles. Operation Red Nose relies on volunteer teams of three who generally use their own vehicles, but in some locations, local car dealerships provide vehicles to Red Nose in December. Operation Red Nose covers fuel costs and also outfits volunteers with red vests that immediately identify the team to clients. Antlers and Santa hats are optional.
Dispatch sends the trio to the client’s location, a bar, restaurant or private home, where the navigator and client driver will chauffeur the client, passengers and vehicle to their destination of choice. Volunteers must pass the background check, have a valid driver’s license and their own vehicles. The number of passengers may be limited by the available seatbelts and space, but there is no limit on kilometres travelled.
“Over the years, people that I care about have used Operation Red Nose, so I’m paying it forward by volunteering,” says Shaun Fomenoff, who is heading into his fifth year with Operation Red Nose in Prince George, B.C.
Riders and drivers often show their appreciation for Operation Red Nose with donations, often worth far more than a cab ride, given to youth organizations.
“People are invariably appreciative and polite and personally, I’ve seen donations as high as $100, because the vehicle owners’ are happy to have their vehicles in their own driveways or garages the next morning rather than having to go back to the party or bar location to pick them up,” says Fomenoff.
In Montreal, Ronald Blake has 25 Operation Red Nose pins, each of which marks a winter holiday season with the organization. After more than a decade on the road, he left his driver and navigator positions to supervise the telephone operators who take the call requests. During the busiest season, Blake typically works seven days a week with shifts that start between 7 and 9 p.m. and end at 3:30 am.
“Why do I do it? Because I might be helping save a life or lives and stopping innocent people from being killed,” says Blake. “I’m looking out for the driver and the passengers in our clients’ vehicles as well as anyone they may encounter on the road, whether they’re in a vehicle or on foot.”
Operation Red Nose volunteers like Blake have learned to open a window a little to give clients a whiff of fresh, cold air and turn down the heat. Even though it’s the client’s vehicle, teams may be provided with plastic sacks or even bring their own because over indulging, whether it’s a rich meal or one drink too many, can upset stomachs.
Confidentiality and compassion are of paramount importance to clients, such as the police officer Blake drove home years ago. In another instance, a university student wanted the ride home, but insisted on driving the vehicle into the garage herself.
“Apparently her mother never let anyone else drive her car, and the daughter was afraid her mother would be furious if she saw a non-family member behind the wheel,” says Blake. “I told her I was sure her mother would be proud of the responsible decision she’d made by calling Operation Red Nose, and I was right. Her mother was happy to see her daughter safe and her car carefully parked in her garage by an Operation Red Nose volunteer.”
Operation Red Nose was created by Laval University math professor and swim coach Jean-Marie De Konick back in 1984 after he learned that 50 percent of all fatal vehicle crashes were caused by impaired drivers and that people tend to drive themselves home because it’s convenient. This year, Operation Red Nose hit an epic milestone celebrating 2 million rides and 1.1 million volunteers in three decades.
Getting home safely is always the priority, but Nova Scotia’s Cabbioke, a tricked out van with its very own karaoke machine, mirror ball and disco lights, is likely the best ever get-home-safely option. Since 2012, the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation, which operates 106 stores across the province, has been running Cabbioke, which lets revellers belt out a tune to earn cab chits and even prizes. Year to date, Cabbioke has travelled 4,693 km with the help of 50 NSLC volunteers and put taxi chits in the hands of hundreds of would-be rock stars!
Of course, free taxi chits rock, but Nova Scotians love their Cabbioke because well, because it keeps the party going just a little bit longer. Revellers told the NSLC that as much as they know taking a cab is the right thing to do, it’s the least interesting part of the evening.
“Cabbioke rewards responsible revellers with a free taxi chit or prize, while providing a memorable experience and a reminder to do the right thing,” says Tim Pellerin, Vice President, Customer Strategy, NSLC.
Where will you find Cabbioke and when? Cabbioke travels the province year-round but the van hits the road the most frequently during the busy winter holiday and summer seasons. Whether it cruises by shoppers who are making their lists and checking them twice or rolls by as you tumble out of a bar, Cabbioke is there for you.
The Cabbioke Ambassadors are typically NSLC staff who also walk alongside as Cabbioke shines during parades such as the recent Parade of Lights in Halifax, but drivers are hired from outside agencies.
“When you make the right decision with Cabbioke, you’re singing, dancing and having fun and still getting home safely,” says Robin West, NSLC store manager, Halifax, a Cabbioke volunteer who is passionate about supporting social responsibility even when she’s out of uniform. “When someone in the crowd screams for Cabbioke or rushes to the microphone to sing, I hold my head up high and proud and know that Cabbioke has just impacted another person. There is no better feeling then that!”
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