A good influence

Jeneen Phillips

Photo By Larry Dalton

Every Friday and Saturday night, Jeneen Phillips waits for the phone to ring. She’s never disappointed. As the public relations and outreach program director for the Designated Drivers Association (DDA), the mother of two (shown above, right, with volunteer coordinator Stephanie Bridges) spends weekends and holidays working as a dispatcher for the nonprofit organization’s hotline. Since St. Patrick’s Day 2001, the group has provided more than 8,650 Sacramentans who’ve had too much to drink with a safe means for getting themselves—and some 4,100 vehicles—home. Potential drunken drivers call dispatchers like Phillips, who send a pair of volunteers to the club, event or residence from which the call came. One volunteer chauffeurs the impaired driver home in their own car while a second follows in a separate vehicle. When they’re not escorting folks home, some volunteers mingle at local bars, passing out cards with the DDA hotline and informing club-goers about the free ride service. Volunteers and staff also participate in a number of education programs to prevent drunken-driving deaths. To become a volunteer, make a donation or find a list of participating bars, visit www.designateddrivers.net. To reach the hotline, call (916) 335-5555.

What is the main focus of the program?

Our main focus is driving intoxicated people home on weekends—on Fridays and Saturdays—from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. We actually don’t stop driving until about 3:30 or 4, but we take our last call at 2 o’clock. But recently, we’ve expanded our program to include education, prevention. We do victims’ speeches. We work with the youth. We go to high schools; we do presentations, driver’s ed classes, victim-impact panels. So, we really expanded in October to do more than just driving people home.

Are there certain bars you work with, or can anyone call for a ride?

[We have] sponsored participants, which means they go to the top of our priority list on calls. And if it’s from a non-sponsoring bar or club, or people have called from private residences, then we will go, but we have to take our sponsored participants first. Then, when we have a first-available, we’ll go pick anyone up. We’ll go as far as Lincoln. We’ve gone to Placerville. We’ve gone to Davis, Woodland, Folsom.

What takes place when someone calls you?

We find out where they’re at, how many passengers they have, what kind of car they have—whether it’s a stick or an automatic, because some of our drivers aren’t comfortable with a stick. We find out where they’re going to, so we can give our drivers an idea. After the call comes in, the person who’s working dispatch will call the team assigned to that area or someone close by.

The drivers work in pairs?

It’s usually a male-and-female team. When they get to the location, if it’s females that are intoxicated, then we have the female driver get in their car and drive them home, and the male will follow. And vice versa. If it’s a bunch of guys, we don’t want to put a female in there. So, we try to get as much information as we can so our drivers are prepared when they get there.

What is the process for becoming a driver?

We do a background check. They have to go and get fingerprinted. We run their driver’s license and make sure it’s valid. So, we know who it is we’re putting out there in the community. … We have had a problem in the last few weeks with an ex-volunteer who was kind of disgruntled when he was asked to leave. He has started up his own designated-drivers [group], but we want to make sure the community does not get that confused with us. He’s been using kind of impostor badges. All our volunteers have to wear a badge so that [people] know that it’s us. The badges that our drivers will wear, they have—Molly Slayter, who is our program director—her signature on the back.

What is the demeanor of the people you pick up?

Funny and friendly. … A couple of weeks ago, we had some military people that used the service, and they were going up to Lincoln. They were stationed out of Beale [Air Force Base]. They told our driver, “Do you realize you just saved six military careers?” That was an awesome compliment.

What motivates you?

My niece Katie was killed by a drunk driver when she was 4. I do this for Katie. That’s my thing. [Prompted by Slayter, Phillips continues.] I was hit at the age of 16 head-on by a drunk driver at 82, 83 miles per hour. I spent the next two years in the hospital. They told my parents I would never live. They told them I’d be brain-damaged, I’d never walk, I’d never have kids. But I’m a pain in the butt, and I’m stubborn, and I want things done my way.