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Group offers to get holiday revelers, cars home safely
0703rides
Vivienne Long-Speer, right, executive director of Bill’s Place Inc., and volunteer Marvin Griffin were at Gainesville Marina Friday afternoon handing out fliers about free rides the organization is offering today to holiday revelers who are too impaired to drive.
To get a ride
Those who’ve had too much to drink can call Bill’s Place Inc. at 770-533-1103 to get a free ride home. The service will be offered 5-11 p.m. today for those who live in Hall County. Click here for more information on Bill’s Place.

For John Ergovich, getting arrested for driving under the influence was a bigger inconvenience than it ever would have been to get a sober person to drive him home.

“Once you get arrested for drunk driving... it does change your life,” Ergovich said. “I’ve been arrested for drunk driving. It’s expensive. It’s embarrassing.”

Ergovich, a recovering alcoholic with more than 22 years of sobriety under his belt, will be waiting by the phone to help others avoid that mistake today.

The Hall County resident is volunteering with a local nonprofit organization offering free rides to those who have had too many drinks to drive themselves.

For the fourth major holiday in a row, volunteers with Bill’s Place Inc. will be available to drive Hall County residents home, in their own cars, 5-11 p.m. today, said Vivienne Long-Speer, executive director of the local facility for those recovering from substance abuse.

The group first started offering the rides on Labor Day weekend in 2009. Long-Speer says the group hopes to thwart the foolish decisions that sometimes turn celebrations into tragedy.

“It’s simply a service that we think would keep the road safe,” Long-Speer said.

The Hall County group will be partnering with local law enforcement who have stepped up enforcement efforts for the 78-hour holiday traffic period.

Both the Georgia State Patrol and the Hall County Sheriff’s Office have promised a number of road blocks to check for impaired drivers this weekend and hopefully cut down on the number of alcohol-related deaths that occur on the state’s roads.

Last year, the July Fourth holiday travel period resulted in 15 traffic-related deaths, one of which was alcohol-related, according to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

In the past, Long-Speer said the group found that most people end up driving impaired because they do not want to leave their vehicles behind. The BPI SafeRides service offers two volunteers for each call: one to drive the impaired driver home in his or her own vehicle and another to follow.

“If we can get their car home safely in their driveway and get them in the house, then we’ve gotten our job done,” Long-Speer said.

And this year, the group will concentrate its efforts at some of the county’s marinas, making its volunteers blatantly available to boaters who need them. While volunteers will be ready to deliver revelers and their insured vehicles home, they can’t do everything.

“We won’t be operating any boats and we won’t be taking their boats home,” Long-Speer said. “...Our prime objective is to get the impaired driver off the road so that law enforcement can concentrate on what they need to do to keep the road safe.”

All the volunteers offering the rides are recovering addicts who have, in some way, been affected by impaired driving, Long-Speer said.

“We don’t preach about not drinking alcohol. We don’t carry any faith-based message — we don’t do any of that,” Long-Speer said. “We simply do this — we volunteer to help make a difference in the community.”

Though the rides are free, the volunteers will accept donations for BPI, Long-Speer said.

“They make a contribution if they choose to,” Long-Speer said. “If they don’t, that’s OK, too.”

But Long-Speer stresses that the service isn’t there as a substitute for responsibility.

“What we want to do is just present another option for people to do the right thing,” she said.

For Ergovich, it’s also a matter of self-preservation. Before he stopped drinking, Ergovich said he never thought anything was wrong with him when he got behind the wheel after a few drinks. He knows others think the same way.

“I realize that people make bad decisions,” Ergovich said. “(This service) keeps people from hitting me when I’m driving down the road.”

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