SafeRides Returns with Larchmont Rotary Club as Sponsor

by Joan R. Simon

(November 5, 2008) After a nearly 2-year hiatus, SafeRides is coming back to Larchmont/Mamaroneck, with the Larchmont Rotary Club as its sponsor. SafeRides is a program run by high school students to drive their peers home on Friday and Saturday nights (no questions asked). In September 2006, it ran into difficulties when the high school PTSA, its former sponsor, discovered that the state PTA insurance policy prevented it from continuing in this role. Efforts to find alternate sponsorship failed, and the program, which had been operating for 20 years, was gone by the end of Feb. 2007.

SafeRides is a national program insured by the Boy Scouts of America, with local sponsorship required. While the re-established SafeRides has signed up 175 members from Mamaroneck High School, it is not an official school organization. The student activity director, Carol Scheffler, explained that there is no official connection to the school. Because of insurance reasons, “we have to have a brick wall” between the school and SafeRides, she said.

The main purpose of SafeRides is to reduce driving accidents by offering a safe ride home to students who might have been drinking on weekend nights or who might be counting on a ride from someone who is impaired. In recent years, the Mamaroneck SafeRides group had extended its mission to include anyone who needed a ride home for any reason, and high school students (and their parents) enjoyed the availability of what was essentially a free weekend taxi service. However, the rules dictate that students be taken only to their “final destination” of the evening: ferrying kids from one party to another is not allowed.

Student Council Helps to Bring Back SafeRides

Bringing back SafeRides has been a long process. After more than a year without a program amid pleas from many students to start it up again, the high school student council launched an effort to re-establish the group last spring. Elise Geithner and Peter Kaplan, who are the new co-presidents of SafeRides, began recruiting members at the end of the school year, in anticipation of finding a sponsor. The application process included an essay by each student seeking membership and an interview for those interested in being on the board. Two of last year’s seniors, Liz Bell and Caroline Irving who had both been involved with SafeRides before its demise, assisted in the interview process.

rotary

SAFERIDES at ROTARY: Mamaroneck High School Students Molly Finer, Peter Kaplan, Elise Geithner and Danny Foster attended the October 17 meeting of the Larchmont Rotary to explain the program's operation. Also along to lend support from the Boy Scouts were: Dan Conniff, director of the Westchester-Putnam Council, Bob Willett, BSA field director, and Jack Coughlin of Larchmont, a long time local and regional Boy Scouts supporter. Photo from Jim Fleming, president of Larchmont Rotary.

How Does SafeRides Work?

Elise stressed that the program is almost entirely “student-run” with assistance from a committee of parent volunteers. How does it work? From 10 pm to 2 am on Friday and Saturday nights, two dispatchers take calls from students needing a ride home. Two cars, each manned by one student driver (with a senior license) and one support passenger, pick up kids as they call in. A parent volunteer is on hand each night to assist the students in case any serious problems develop, but the adult does not directly participate in the SafeRides process.

Elise emphasized that the program is strictly “confidential.” The names of anyone using the service are known only to the dispatchers and drivers (not the parent volunteer). The dispatching center will be at either the Hommocks Ice Rink, where it was previously housed, or the Mamaroneck Town kiosk at the corner of N. Chatsworth and Myrtle Blvd.

Organizing the set-up and execution of this complex enterprise falls to the SafeRides’ 18-member board, who are now setting up training sessions for the members and parent volunteers, with the assistance of the local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Michael Coughlin of the Rotary Club will be serving as liaison to the group. The new SafeRides is expected to be up and running by the end of the November.

Dan Conniff of the Westchester-Putnam Council of BSA praised the Mamaroneck students for their hard work and promised that “this time around we’re going to provide more support for the kids.” There are five other SafeRides organizations in Westchester-Putnam, including groups in Irvington and at Fox Lane High School, which serves Mt. Kisco, Bedford and Pound Ridge. “We’re actually using Mamaroneck as a role model for other schools,” he said, citing Ardsley and Edgemont where new programs are being established.

Parents Welcome Back SafeRides

Local parents as well as students seem happy to have SafeRides back. “I thought it was a fabulous organization," said Margaret Corbett, president of the PTA Council. "The kids really got the message about the dangers of drinking and driving.”

Amy Halkett, whose four children participated in SafeRides when they were students at MHS, described the program as “one of the best things about the community. I was always so proud of it.”

“I happen to believe that the reason our community hasn’t had more alcoholic-related accidents is because of SafeRides,” commented Emily Irving, a parent of two MHS graduates. “The Rotary Club should be commended for bringing it back.”

Margie Lyons, a current high school parent whose two older daughters served as president and vice-president of SafeRides, said she thought it was “a really nice thing for the community to offer its kids, but it can only work if kids are responsible and committed. I’m glad they’re giving it another go.”

The coordinator of R.A.D.A.R. (Responsible Action: A Drug and Alcohol Resource), Janet Buchbinder was cautious in her support. “While I believe that SafeRides provides a valuable service for teens if they find themselves in any type of unsafe situation, it is important to remember that underage drinking is a serious problem that goes far beyond drinking and driving."