Operation Nez Rouge, a volunteer-based service that helps keep drunk drivers off the road during the holidays, is anticipating a busy season this year. But the organization might not be able to meet the demand, as it is struggling for volunteers, said Jean-Marie De Koninck, who founded it in 1984.
Nez Rouge – Operation Red Nose in the rest of Canada – which launched its 2009 campaign Dec. 4, operates in eight provinces, with the Quebec arm of the organization boasting almost 4,000 volunteers. Mark Infante, who has volunteered for the past 14 holiday seasons, said he keeps coming back because of the feeling he gets.
“Each night I come here and I tell myself that I might have saved someone’s life because the person I drive home is one less drunk driver on the road,” he said.
Other volunteers, Infante said, jump on board either after benefiting from the service or after suffering a loss from a drunk driving accident.
The service could be liable to dangers because strangers who have had too much to drink have to trust other strangers to get them home safe. Despite this, Infante said the service is very reliable and secure.
After filling out an application, all potential volunteers undergo a background check.
When someone commissions a ride from Nez Rouge, a car is dispatched with three volunteers, two of whom drive in the customer’s car while the other follows behind.
Though Infante said most of the memories he has collected over the past 14 years have been good, he did admit that he has been in some less than desirable situations.
He told a story from a holiday past when he and two other volunteers were driving a woman to her home in Brossard. But nobody could find her house. After driving up and down the street a few times, desperately searching for the woman’s home, she finally remembered it had burned down, and she had since moved to Laval.
“Sure we all came home that night a little bit later than expected, but we had a good laugh,” Infante said.
Volunteers have had to call for an ambulance on occasion, the volunteer said. “We are not paramedics or police officers,” he said, noting that the professionals are called in if a customer passes out and can’t be woken up.
Koninck, a mathematics professor at UniversitÃ© Laval and head of the Table Quebecois de la securite routiere, which advises the Quebec government on road safety, said he was inspired to start the organization after he heard that 50 per cent of road accidents in Quebec were caused by drunk driving. Shortly after, he heard a radio interview with a bartender who was complaining about intoxicated patrons who wouldn’t leave his bar at closing time. The bartender said his patrons were too drunk to drive, but didn’t want to take a taxi home, leaving their cars to get stuck in the snow.
During the 2008 holiday season, 49,816 volunteers in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, News Brunswick and Nova Scotia provided 68,555 rides.
As popular as the service is, Koninck said he does not want it to be available throughout the year. “We don’t want to become a crutch for people who like to drink too much,” he said. “We are giving people a break during Christmas time.”