Students attempt to implement ‘Safe Rides’

Andrew Blank and Resa Magill

After going to school all day, having Orchesis Show rehearsals until 8:30 p.m., then going straight to dance until 9:30 p.m., junior Emily Landau decided she was going to do research instead of relaxing. She had heard about a program that she said would be a “pretty easy” way to prevent intoxicated driving accidents, and is currently working to get it approved in the Glenbrook North community.

Landau and junior Jamie Cohen are seeking to start a program called Safe Rides at GBN. The program is based off a program run by New Trier Township students for New Trier students.

The NT program allows students who do not have a ride home to call a Safe Rides hotline to be picked up by another New Trier student. A student driver, who has been through the training program and has had a license for at least a year, comes and picks up the student and takes him or her home. The student being driven could be under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or just sober and not have a ride home.
Landau believes this program could help several students from GBN and prevent drinking and driving.

“Kids are obviously going out on weekends and drinking, and sometimes they’re driving home, and it can be unsafe and people can get hurt,” said Landau. “[If the program happens, students] can just call Safe Rides, and it can prevent any dangers of death or accidents or collisions.”

New Trier seniors Carolyn Fishman, Jack Quigley and Paulette Ostrowski are currently co-heads of the Safe Rides program in the New Trier township. Their program is open most Friday and Saturday nights during the school year for all sophomore, junior and senior New Trier students.     According to Fishman, freshmen are not included because they are on a separate campus at New Trier and the Safe Rides staff “try and keep them away from that whole lifestyle.”

Fishman also said that no parent, police or school is informed of the picked-up student’s condition.

“It’s completely confidential,” said Fishman. “The only people who know are the people who [are] working that night. And they’re under Safe Rides honor so they can’t go up to the kid at school and be like, ‘Oh hey, I drove you home last weekend.’ It’s common courtesy because a lot of times the people who work it use it.”

Landau said she and Cohen hope to start off the program every other weekend to see how much participation there is. According to Quigley, their Safe Rides receives an average 30-40 calls a night.

While Landau and Cohen are trying to get the program supported by the school, the New Trier students’ program is not associated with NT, according to Fishman.

“The reason we can’t run it through the school is that some people say it promotes drinking and smoking … but the way we view it is it’s not there to promote it,” said Fishman. “We know it’s going to happen amongst high school students.”

At GBN, Dean of Students William Eike does not think that the program “will be incorporated into the community” as of right now.

“Students shouldn’t be out putting themselves in that situation to be under the influence,” said Eike. “So, it’s almost as if we would be condoning that behavior and providing means of helping.”

Eike’s other concern is how the program would change student relationships between the driver and the person being driven. He believes that it could put the driver in an uncomfortable situation.

Landau, however, cannot see the program changing student relationships. She said even if it does in the way that the administration sees it, she thinks sacrificing the relationship is worth it.

“Is it more important that somehow we have a different relationship in class or that we saved a life?” Landau said.

While Eike does not necessarily view drunk driving as a frequent problem among GBN students, he said the administration is not naïve.

“If the issue is more of an individual who is violating the law, who is going out and consuming alcohol or drugs and being under the influence, it should be something the family is working with,” Eike said.

There are several other Safe Rides programs across the country, such as the one social worker Nancy Holczer is in charge of at Newton North High School and Newton South High School in Massachusetts. Holczer and several other professionals, under the Newton Safe Schools/Healthy Students Safe Rides Task Force, were able to start up the program using the Safe Schools Healthy Students federal grant. Despite lack of public support, Holczer believes this program is important to have in the community.

“Two of our missions are to prevent substance abuse and support violence protection,” said Holczer. “This program can get kids home safe who may have had to walk or get in a car with someone they weren’t comfortable with. When we proposed our ideas to the federal government, they were okay with it.”

Like Holczer, Landau and Cohen think this program is important for GBN and plan to continue to push for the program. They are currently working on a presentation to give to Mike Tarjan, assistant principal of student activities.

“A lot of people say it condones the usage of alcohol but it’s time to realize that it’s going to happen anyways and ignoring it doesn’t help the problem,” said Cohen. “We would much rather prefer to give them a safe ride home and [have them] be able to come back to school.”