Boise designated driver services see business go up while DUIs go down

Four Valley businesses offer the cab alternative to combat drunken driving.

zkyle@idahostatesman.comFebruary 21, 2014 

  • Drunken driving stats

    - There were 1,456 accidents in Idaho in 2012 caused by drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs, resulting in 73 deaths.

    - Ada County had 323 impaired-driver accidents, causing eight deaths.

    - Canyon County had 127 impaired-driver accidents, causing four deaths.

    - Boise had 188 impaired-driver accidents, causing two deaths.

    - Nampa had 53 impaired-driver accidents and no fatalities.

    Source: Idaho Transportation Department

The first time a drunken driver hit Boisean Christine Brown, the driver broadsided the cab of her semitrailer truck, damaging eight disks in her back and neck and breaking her breastbone.

That was in Kansas City in 1998. The driver had just left a casino at night and was driving without headlights.

The second time was in 2004 near Lima, Ohio, on her way to her son’s wedding. The accident wasn’t as severe. Brown attended the wedding, groggy with medications that dulled pain from the reaggravated injuries.

Brown, 50, still struggles with kidney problems and heart disease resulting from reactions to medication after her first accident. She decided something had to be done about drunken driving in her hometown Boise. That was the impetus for Buddie’s, a designated driver service.

“The more I looked into the statistics the more committed I became,” she said. “I do not want anybody to go through what I do every day.”

A STRUGGLING START

Brown, husband Rick and son Wayne were the only employees when the business started in 2009. At the time, $100 in revenue on a Friday was considered a decent night. In the business’s second month, Brown and her husband sold their wedding rings to pay for insurance.

But the calls steadily picked up as the family placed more Buddie’s posters in more bars and let word of mouth do the rest. Now, Buddie’s has 10 drivers operating every day except Christmas, Christine Brown said. The service takes hundreds of people home some weekend nights. She said they served a record 400 passengers on New Year’s Eve.

Here’s how Buddie’s works: If a person or small group has a couple of drinks and thinks better of driving, they call Buddie’s, just as they would a taxi. A car arrives with two Buddie’s drivers. One takes your keys and drives you home in your car, anywhere in the Treasure Valley. The second drives the “chase” car and picks up the first driver at the destination.

The service’s appeal hinges on getting your car home, said Ray Benavidez, a bartender at Lucky Dog Tavern at 2223 W. Fairview Ave. who refers customers to Buddie’s four or five times a week. People take more risks with driving when they need their car to get to work or other appointments the next morning, he said.

It’s also why he calls Buddie’s himself once or twice a month to get him and his Ford Ranger home 3 miles from the Lucky Dog for $15. He gets a $5 discount for working in a service industry.

“Having your car in the morning totally plays into it,” Benavidez said. “I love it. I get things done the next day. I don’t have to call a friend to pick me up or even take a cab back to the bar.”

OTHER SERVICES

My DD, We Drive and Be My Chauffeur provide similar services in the Valley.

Be My Chauffeur owner Ray Sanchez said he would get 10 calls on a busy Friday when he started in 2010. Now, he has six drivers and averages about 300 calls a week.

“I grew up in Boise,” Sanchez said. “I’m a longtime Boise citizen. The reason why I started this was I wanted to make a change in the community.”

The newest service is My Designated Driver, launched in October. Owner Travis Stanek said the business is growing, with three driving teams and about 20 calls last weekend.

Stanek said he started My DD after encountering victims of drunken driving when he worked as a nurse in the intensive care unit at Southwest Idaho Advanced Care Hospital.

“It’s the young kids who are brain-dead or quadraplegic that hit home,” he said. “Most people drink and drive because they need their car for work or they don’t want to leave it Downtown. Maybe if they had a different option to call, things would turn out different.”

DECLINE IN DUI

Boise police made 1,168 DUI arrests in 2012, a decline for the fourth-straight year. Boise police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said she expects the trend to increase to five years once the 2013 numbers are compiled.

Police said city rules making taxis easier to find Downtown and the growth of designated driver services have helped decrease drunken driving.

“DUI is totally preventable, but it takes a conscious effort to plan ahead and not to drive impaired,” Hightower said. “Those decisions are difficult to make after one is impaired. Services like Buddie’s give people practical, affordable options and reinforce that driving impaired is not something this community condones.”

Tina Nelson said she calls Buddie’s any time she has a few drinks at a birthday party or at the TK Bar at 6455 S. Eisenman Road.

She’s friendly in general, and more so after imbibing, earning her the nickname “Gigglebox” among Buddie’s drivers.

Nelson, 45, said she pays about the same $20 for Buddie’s to drive her home in her SUV as she’d pay to a cab.

“I don’t even worry about taking my truck when I go out,” she said. “I know I’ll pay the same price, and I’d just as soon give the money to them. The drivers always make me feel comfortable. They never judge.”

LAUGHTER AND UNPLEASANTRIES

Driving customers’ vehicles requires some flexibility, Brown said. One junker had its hood tied down, passenger mirror held to the frame with duct tape and a door that had to be held closed when she drove. Brown also has cruised in Jaguars, Porsches, beautifully customized cars and a Mercedes “with a ride so smooth, that handles so wonderfully, it’s like riding on air,” she said.

These days, Brown runs Buddie’s from a desk and two monitors in her dining room. She tracks the progress of her drivers with GPS devices in the chase cars. She coordinates pickups.

She no longer drives people home. Driving home drunken customers wasn’t always pleasant, but Brown said she made friends over the years and enjoyed more than a few laughs.

“I have enough stories that I could write a book,” she said. “Unfortunately, not many of them are fit to print.”

Zach Kyle: 377-6464,Twitter: @IDS_zachkyle

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