AAA Keeps Drunks Off the Roads by Towing Them Home

After Successful New Year's Eve, Program Readies For Super Bowl

If someone has had too much to drink on a major holiday, several AAA organizations will tow their vehicle home for free, services that were used by more people than ever over the recent holiday period.

So is this good news, or bad news? It's emphatically positive in that more potential drunk drivers were kept off the road over the holidays, said AAA Auto Club South's Joanne Newton, whose organization covers Florida, Georgia and parts of Tennessee. But it's bad news, Newton said, because more drivers are now using the towing service as "Plan A, instead of as a program of last resort."
The way it works is that a driver who has had too much to drink and has no way of getting home can call AAA and get their vehicle towed home, and get a ride home themselves. The service operates with "no questions asked," which means AAA does not ask for a driver's personal details or even require AAA membership. A party host can also call on a guest's behalf. Although AAA Auto Club South did not yet have data available for this year's holiday Tow to Go program, last year it towed more than 1600 drivers home, and Newton said this year's total was "substantially higher."

The program began in 1998, and was expanded to cover Charlotte, N.C., and parts of South Carolina this year. AAA Auto Club South works with more than 900 local contractors and corporate sponsors including beermaker Anheuser-Busch, which collectively share the costs. Similar programs exist in other areas, notably in Connecticut and the Northeast, and Southern California, where it's known as "Tipsy Tow."

"Since its inception, Tow to Go has safely removed more than 11,000 potential drunk drivers from the roads in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Charlotte, N.C., thanks in part to the efforts of wholesalers and retailers, and local law enforcement," said Kathy Casso, a spokeswoman for Anheuser-Busch. "These are our roads and our families and it is our collective responsibility to help keep them safe."
Tow to Go operates on every major holiday and on Super Bowl Sunday, and Newton said every driver that calls the service is picked up. Incredibly, one driver was towed more than 100 miles to their home, although that was a rare case. Any costs incurred, Newton said, are dwarfed by the program's success in helping keep drunk drivers off the road.

More than 900,000 drivers are arrested each year on suspicion of DUI. More than one-third are repeat offenders. More than 12,000 people die each year in DUI or DWI-related incidents.
"This year, we did extremely well. Maybe a little too well. For future we wish to stress that people make a plan before they go out, such as designating a sober driver. [Tow to Go] is a program of last resort," said Newton. "It's kind of scary that all of these people drink with their keys in their hands, but we're thrilled to be part of the program. It's a program that not only raises awareness but you can point to it and say we actually got a drunk driver off the road."

As alternatives to using the Tow to Go service, AAA recommends designating non-drinking drivers who can get everyone home safely, calling a friend or family member for a ride home, or keeping a cab company telephone number in your wallet.

Jim Shuler, at the Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety, said the state welcomes AAA's Tow to Go service as part of a "multi-pronged" effort by the state's law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups to reduce drunk driving.He said the service is particularly valuable on major holidays when the state elevates the number of highway troopers and DUI checkpoints.

"We appreciate when we see see advocacy groups working on behalf of the safety of our roadways. We're all working together for the same ends, to reduce the number of drunken driving injuries and fatalities. It's not something the police and highway patrol can do by itself," he said. "We prefer the idea of planning ahead, to designate a driver or plug the number of a taxi service in your phone. But Tow to Go is an excellent plan as a last resort."

Drivers should be aware that they can be arrested on drunk driving charges if they are found sleeping in their cars and fail a field sobriety test, said Florida lawyer David Haenel.

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