Project Safer is a nonprofit organization based in Ventura County that aims to educate the public about the safe consumption of alcohol and reward individuals for their choice to volunteer to be the designated driver.
Project Safer began 10 years ago and is funded by Ventura County Behavioral Health. The most popular program Project Safer puts on is called “Be the DD and Win.” Volunteers go out to predetermined venues known for large crowds and will celebrate the designated drivers and make sure that everyone gets home safely.
Debbie Williams, a program assistant at Project Safer, works to make sure that customers that come to their events will feel rewarded for making what could be a life saving decision to be the designated driver.
“Four years ago we started the Be the DD and Win program in Ventura and the focus on eliminating DUI’s in Ventura County. So that is an event we do one to two times a month in Ventura, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and Camarillo. We go to select bars and restaurants and we go into the locations and we have a group of volunteers called the ‘prize posse’ and we basically find the DD’s and shower them with little goodies including candy and beaded necklaces. We just pump everybody up and we basically say thanks for planning ahead,” Williams said.
Project Safer mainly targets popular drinking destinations, including locations in Thousand Oaks such as Brendan’s and Sunset Terrace, which are known for attracting large crowds of California Lutheran University students.
Nicole Montes, a senior at Cal Lutheran and an intern at Project Safer, joined the organization because she knows how frequently Cal Lutheran students go to some of these bars and wants to ensure that students get home safely and avoid making the wrong choice.
“Everyone goes to Sunset Terrace. There are stories of people getting in accidents or they end up in the hospital and I really want to prevent that because I have had friends that weren’t smart about their drinking choices,” Montes said. “So I want to put the awareness out there … could happen to anybody so we want everybody to be safe when they go out.”
Project Safer faces challenges in emphasizing the importance of the designated driver when there are other outlets for people to use such as Uber. But instead of seeing companies like Uber as an obstacle, Williams said they see it as another opportunity for people to get home safely.
“We actually give out discount cards for taxi rides if we come across a group that doesn’t have a DD,” Williams said. “So the biggest thing we are trying to do is come out with your DD and you have a chance to win. As long as they have a DD or a safe way to get home without them getting behind the wheel, we’re fine with that.”
Williams said that the most important thing, whether people choose to use Uber or drive home, is making sure people understand the designated driver should not be the least drunk person in the group.
Megan Blackburn, a junior at Cal Lutheran, said in an email interview she believes Project Safer can help convey the message that having a completely sober designated driver will help college students lower their chances of getting in an accident.
“I think it is a big task to remain completely sober and not take part in drinking festivities. A family friend of mine was recently involved in a horrific drunk driving accident and seeing how the effects continue on after that one careless mistake is insane,” Blackburn said. “I think people need to open their eyes and realize that this can happen to them and it will. Being smart and being a DD or finding a DD can minimize those mistakes and being rewarded can be very beneficial for college students.”
Williams and the team at Project Safer plan to continue to use its methods of education and reward to eliminate the possibility of drinking and driving throughout Ventura County.
“There’s always DUI’s throughout the county,” Williams said. “So until there becomes zero DUI’s, that’s what we’re going to keep working toward.”
Published October 21st, 2015