It’s all part of the entertainment industry’s “Voice for Road Safety” program started in 2005, funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety. The RADD California Coalition engages businesses, media and state-government leaders in finding solutions to reduce deaths and injuries among young adults on California’s roads.
A card available at Discover Pacific Beach, 1503 Garnet Ave., lists 22 bars and restaurants that participate in RADD, also known as the designated-driver program.
The card also includes a designated driver pledge that customers are encouraged to sign, though most businesses don’t require the card in order to get a free drink.
Patrons need only identify themselves in participating establishments. In fact, it’s mandatory for all San Diego bars and restaurants that have entertainment permits to offer free non-alcoholic beverages to designated drivers, according to Marian Novak, RADD Coalition director for San Diego and California.
She touts the program and distributes cards at local universities and to Navy and Marine Corps bases.
“Our mission is for people not to drink and drive,” said Novak. “We tell them to make a plan before they go out. Appoint a designated driver, get a taxi or a hotel room or stay with a friend.”
Fortunately in Pacific Beach, she said, many of the locals walk to bars.
While some bars and restaurants offer sodas, coffee and juice to designated drivers, others also offer “virgin” drinks, and some even offer free munchies, like tacos, to encourage at least one person in a group not to drink alcohol.
Bar owners say that if waiters or bartenders neglect to tell groups about the program, patrons need only ask.
Such is the case at the Firehouse Restaurant at 722 Grand Ave., according to general manager Jaime Jones. Free drinks here include sodas and juice, as well as “virgin” versions of drinks like mojitos and mai tais.
Jones said the restaurant also will gladly secure one of the nearby taxis if the situation calls for it.
Jones doesn’t believe the restaurant loses money on the free drinks because “they keep people eating.” “It’s worth it,” she said. “Drinking is one of the popular things to do in PB and the designated-driver program helps keep the college-age people and everyone else safe.”
Jones believes non-drinkers who serve as designated drivers are more respected than they used to be. “People look up to the person who’s getting a Coke as being more responsible,” said Jones.
The Sandbar Sports Grill on Ventura Place also participates in the RADD-guided program, using posters, cards and coasters to make patrons aware of the program. In addition to soda, tea and coffee for designated drivers, it offers non-alcoholic versions of all its mixed drinks.
“Our goal is to get people home safely,” said David Jones, president of the Hospitality Task Force in Pacific Beach and director of operations for the Verant Group, which owns the Sandbar.
Although K.C. Matthys, a manager at Bare Back Grill on Mission Boulevard, said, “It’s pretty standard among most PB bars to offer free non-alcoholic beverages to designated drivers.”
Novak, who put herself through college waiting tables, said, “My dream would be that servers walked up to a group of four and said, ‘So, who’s the designated driver?’”
Jones agrees with the message and intent of the program.
“I’m definitely glad (the RADD program) exists,” said Jones. “… Designated drivers have kind of evolved; people talk about it more. [But] I feel like people still don’t take advantage of the program enough.”